ShapingEDU Unconference 2020: Taking It All Online During the Coronavirus Pandemic (Pt. 2 of 2)

March 26, 2020

An innocuous little note at the bottom of the “living” online agenda for the 2020 Arizona State University ShapingEDU Unconference (for “dreamers, doers, and drivers shaping the future of learning in the digital age”) earlier this month proved, in retrospect, to be one of the most prescient and useful comments anyone could have injected into the planning process: “While the start and end tines each day will not change, all activity times are fluid/subject to change…because it’s an unconference.”

The two previous ShapingEDU unconferences (in 2018 and 2019) had been tremendous examples of what can happen when a blended (onsite-online) community of learning meets face to face on an annual basis with an understanding that the agenda—and the Unconference itself—is subject to change in any way that fosters positive conversation and action. (As I noted in the first of these two sets of Unconference reflections, the 2018 Unconference produced a framework—10 Actions to Shape the Future of Learning—for action and archived materials, including graphic facilitator Karina Branson’s visual representations of what occurred there; the 2019 Unconference produced an online 18-page communique of “actionable ideas and strategies that can humanize learning, promote greater access to and equity in learning experiences, better connect education to the future workforce and world, and nurture highly collaborative communities of practice” that continues to be shared globally.) The overall structure of both events—an clear, concise statement of purpose provided the framework for discussion, planning, and implementation; the flexibility of the living agenda allowed and encouraged participants to alter the agenda at any time during which it became apparent that changes would produce greater results than the previous version of the agenda nurtured—fostered the perfect response to the swift transformations that literally took place overnight during the event this year. It also suggests a framework for trainer-teacher-learners to emulate as we move forward in designing and facilitating the best possible learning opportunities for those we serve.

The key moment in the ShapingEDU community’s response to the spread of the coronavirus occurred at the end of the first full day of onsite-online activities. Unconference organizers, responding to the fear that airlines might soon be cancelling flights and leave onsite participants separated from their families, made what was for them a very difficult decision: cancelling the onsite portion of the Unconference and simultaneously moving the mostly-onsite event completely online.

More importantly, they used every avenue available to quickly disseminate news of the decision and provide clear instructions on how we would continue during the second day of the two-day event. There were face-to-face conversations in the lobby of the hotel where many of us were staying. There was an email message sent to all participants. There were posts in the ShapingEDU Unconference Slack channel. To say it as bluntly as possible: there was complete transparency about what was happening and there was a magnificent effort to convey the news in the most positive way possible.

It’s well worth sharing a slightly-edited version of the note that was drafted by Samantha Becker, who serves as a driving force and supportive colleague in virtually everything related to the community and the Unconference, and that went out to all of us:

“Dear Dreamers, Doers and Drivers:

“Thank you so much for your brilliant participation and rallying today to advance some awesome and actionable outputs to better education. You made it insightful and you made it fun. You have truly embraced the spirit of the unconference!

“We have made a decision to pivot to online-only activities tomorrow, beginning again in our Zoom room [the link was shared here to make it easy for attendees to continue participating] at 9am AZ time / 12pm Eastern US Time. This was a very difficult decision to make, and one that has been made to take every precaution for our community, given the updates unfolding around us in real-time. Those here in person that wish to take earlier flights can.

“That said, we except a robust online program tomorrow, kicking off at 9am with a special talk from Adobe’s Todd Taylor on digital and creative fluency. Our graphic facilitator Karina Branson will be online and making her graphics all digital! Watch us flex. :wink:

The goal tomorrow online is take all the actionable ideas and products we came up with in our neighborhood working sessions, narrow them down and start firming up concrete plans for the ShapingEDU community to weigh in on. Even if you couldn’t make today or only part of today, you can jump in tomorrow and contribute in a major way.

Zoom Room: [again, the link was provided]  (9am – 1pm AZ / 12pm – 4pm Eastern US)

If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out. The Slack workspace has been lively and we’ll pick our conversations back up there in the #unconference2020 channel.”

Reading that note can’t help but leave us with an appreciation for how quickly, effectively, and positively Samantha and other Unconference organizers (with input from available attendees) made and publicized the transformation. We can’t help but notice how effectively they used every resource available to them. And, above all, we have to acknowledge how well-prepared (through its consistent exploration and use of online communication tools) community members were for this massive shift in plans—the same sort of massive shift that is occurring in training-teaching-learning worldwide.

Visual Summary, by Karina Branson (ConverSketch), of Virtual Planning Session

The result was that when we reconvened (online) the following morning, most of us were present. Ready to work. And deeply appreciative for the creative, playful way with which the change was managed. One of the first spur-of-the-moment adaptations came from Laura Geringer, the community engagement, writing, and project leadership consultant who does much of the day-to-day work of reaching out to ShapingEDU community members to keep us informed and involved. Acknowledging that this was a group that thrived on collegiality and effective use of videoconferencing platforms like Zoom, she encouraged all of us to activate the webcams on our laptops so we could produce a global wave. And even for those of us who found our webcams choosing that moment to malfunction, the gesture was a success. We waved. We laughed. And then we got down to business, putting the technology in the background and bringing the interactions into the foreground to produce a set of proposals for projects the community will consider pursuing as a result of the time we spent together at ShapingEDU 2020.

ShapingEDU 2020 Virtual Wave

So, let’s hear it for flexible/adaptable communities of learning and all that their members do to make them successful through an approach of considering everyone a co-conspirator in the training-teaching-learning-doing process. A willingness to work with technology that sometimes produces spectacular results and sometimes leaves us frustrated by short-term failures. And living agendas that are created with an understanding that “all activity times are fluid/subject to change”…because that’s one of many approaches we can take to produce first-rate learning opportunities and the results they can produce.

N.B.: Trainer-teacher-learners worldwide are creating and sharing magnificent resources to help colleagues make the transition from onsite to online learning. Among those are Cindy Huggett’s “Virtual Presenter’s Guide to Using Zoom Meeting Tools” and the numerous suggestions posted in the Facebook  Pandemic Pedagogy group. If you want to share your own resources, please don’t hesitate to respond to this post via a comment.


ShapingEDU Unconference 2020: On Learning, Pandemics, and Rapid Adaptability (Pt. 1 of 2)

March 25, 2020

While trainer-teacher-learners globally are struggling to adapt to a rapidly-changing learning environment created as a result of the current coronavirus pandemic, examples of communities of learning adapting quickly through positive actions are abundant. It’s fascinating to watch—and participate in the growth of—global networks including the Facebook Pandemic Pedagogy group which, as of today, has more than 26,000 members online creating/sharing/absorbing information, resources, questions, and ideas regarding the large-scale, blink-of-an-eye movement from onsite instruction to online learning opportunities. It’s exciting to be part of smaller communities of learning, including Maurice Coleman’s T is for Training group centered around his biweekly podcast exploring training-teaching-learning-doing in libraries across the United States, as they create and facilitate informal online community discussions via Zoom and numerous other videoconferencing tools as a way of keeping up, staying socially connected in a time of social distancing, and doing what it they do best: promoting the best possible approaches to fostering positive learning experiences for those who rely on them for support.

In the midst of all this, the 2020 Arizona State University ShapingEDU Unconference (for “dreamers, doers, and drivers shaping the future of learning in the digital age”) earlier this month stands out as a stunningly successful example of how those of us comfortable with and experienced in working in blended (onsite/online) environments are well-positioned to pivot on a very small (digital) dime when necessary. More importantly, it may be useful example/case study for trainer-teacher-learner-doers globally not only during the current coronavirus pandemic but during any period during which our approach to the work we do has to change as fast as the world around us is changing.

The third annual Unconference was planned, over a months-long period of time, as an onsite gathering (in Tempe, Arizona) with the potential for some online interactions for those community members unable to attend onsite. It was scheduled to begin onsite with an opening reception on the evening of March 11 and conclude around noon on March 13. Registration—by invitation only—peaked at nearly 220 participants in the days before the event was scheduled to begin. But when coronavirus concerns increased in late February and early March, cancellations accelerated; by the time participants began arriving in Tempe, there had been more than 50 cancellations, and the opening night reception had fewer than 50 people in attendance.

What could have been a deal- (or Unconference-) breaker simply became a challenge in adaptability for those onsite as well as for those online. Onsite participants doubled down on our efforts to draw our online colleagues into the conversations via Twitter, via the Unconference live feed (via Zoom) that was already in place, and through quick adaptations in the way onsite sessions were managed.

It’s important to acknowledge that quite a bit goes into creating a community and an event as flexible/adaptable, focused, innovative, and productive as the ShapingEDU community and Unconference have proved to be during their first couple of years of operations. This is not something that we master and implement overnight. It starts with a shared vision: in this case, a commitment “to assemble a diverse collection of dreamers, doers, and drivers who believe that we can collectively shape a rich and impactful future for the application of emerging technologies to the design of learning and learners over the next chapter of the digital age” [the quote is from the invitation to attend the first Unconference, held in April 2018]. It grows through the work of first-rate planners and facilitators with a talent for including, at every possible opportunity, all interested community members in the actual planning process through numerous tools including a “living” online agenda. It is supported year-round through formal and informal online interactions, including webinars focused on specific elements of the overall ShapingEDU initiative and online publications that serve as resources for trainer-teacher-learner-doers worldwide. And, most importantly of all, it is grounded in a commitment to maintain a positive approach—particularly in times of adversity.

The community and its annual unconferences are seamlessly interwoven: the onsite interactions support the year-round online interactions, and the online interactions and projects fuel the onsite gatherings. ShapingEDU as an initiative and a community, furthermore, thrives through a combination of cherishing and promoting dreaming as well as doing—there is plenty of room within this community for those who love contemplating big ideas and those who want to get something done. In fact, one of the biggest strengths of the ShapingEDU community is that the dreamers are also drivers and doers who are not at all satisfied with coming up with ideas and then leaving the development and implementation to someone else. It’s a community that values and seeks and produces results. (The 2018 Unconference produced a framework—10 Actions to Shape the Future of Learning—for action and archived materials, including graphic facilitator Karina Branson’s visual representations of what occurred there; the 2019 Unconference produced an online 18-page communique of “actionable ideas and strategies that can humanize learning, promote greater access to and equity in learning experiences, better connect education to the future workforce and world, and nurture highly collaborative communities of practice” that has been shared globally.)  

Acknowledging everyone involved in the development of the community and the unconferences would invariably result in an unbearably long post here on Building Creative Bridges and inadvertently leaving someone out, but a few key players are well worth mentioning as resources to anyone interested in knowing more about how to replicate its early successes. There is Lev Gonick, Arizona State University chief information officer and a founding force behind ShapingEDU. There is Samantha Becker, a cherished long-time colleague and collaborator who, as community manager for ShapingEDU, serves as a driving force and supportive colleague in virtually everything related to the community and the Unconference. And there is Laura Geringer, the community engagement, writing, and project leadership consultant who does much of the day-to-day work of reaching out to ShapingEDU community members to keep us informed and involved. Working alongside them physically and virtually are the volunteers who take bite-sized pieces of the overall initiative and work toward transforming dreams into positive, meaningful, measurable results.

What Lev and Sam and Laura nurture was clearly visible onsite. Because we are used to blended onsite-online interactions, it wasn’t much of a stretch for us to integrate our online colleagues into our activities on the first full day the 2020 Unconference. And when it became clear that the much lower-than-expected number of online participants was going to radically curtail the effectiveness of the breakout sessions we had planned for each group pursuing a part of the overall ShapingEDU framework, we quickly merged some of the groups with overlapping areas of interest and expertise to create more dynamic conversations, then further improvised by fully integrating what had initially been envisioned as conversations divided between onsite and online groups—which meant, for example, that my colleague Kim Flintoff (working from Australia) and I quickly snagged a room with projection and audio/loudspeaker capabilities—so we could hook my laptop up to those systems; the result was that we co-facilitated a session that extended from our room in Tempe all the way to Kim’s home on the other side of the world—and also drew in a couple of other onsite facilitators and a few online participants into the same highly productive completely blended session. One of the most rewarding signs of success came when we stopped paying attention to the technology that was making the session possible and focused on the results we were hoping to produce.

Just when all of us at the Unconference thought we had pushed our ability to adapt to its limit, another unexpected twist occurred—at the end of our first full day together: the increasing fear of cancelled flights home because of the then not-yet-implemented shelter-in-place orders that started going into effect less than a week later in parts of the United States drove the unexpected decision to move everything online overnight. Which meant that almost everyone had to scramble to rebook flights. Cancel their overnight reservations at the conference hotel. Scramble to pack everything that had been brought to the conference. And take actions that would have us all back together the following morning for Day 2 of what was about to become a completely virtual conference—with just a handful of us continuing to work together (in the Unconference online environment) from the dining room of the Unconference hotel.

Next: Going Online to Continue Dreaming, Driving, and Doing


ATD ICE 2019: The Learning Room

May 21, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–21 May 2019


ALA Midwinter 2018 (Denver): Conversations, Ghosts, and Pentimenti in the Hallways

February 10, 2018

The halls of the Colorado Convention Center in Denver, where the American Library Association (ALA) 2018 Midwinter Meeting is fully underway, have never felt more lively or filled with stimulating, deeply thoughtful conversations to me. Nor have they ever felt so filled by ghosts.

I have, frankly, lost track of the number of times I have been here for ALA and ATD (Association for Talent Development) conferences. And, as I walked the conference center hallways yesterday morning—only yesterday; already feels like weeks ago—for my first onsite activity during the 2018 Midwinter Meeting, I felt worlds melting into each other. Intellectually, I knew I was here to spend time with my trainer-teacher-learner-doer colleagues working in the library industry. But somehow my body was instinctively reconnecting me viscerally with friends and colleagues I met during previous visits, as if their ghosts—conference-center pentimenti or some other form of presence—remained long after they had returned home. I found myself thinking about attending sessions scheduled for other (previous) conferences as if they were still about to happen.

Repeatedly then and now—nearly a day and a half  later—I found and find myself looking for and expecting to see friends (some still alive, some now long-gone) encountered during previous ATD and ALA conferences. And it was—and is—comforting and reassuring because it reminds me that the wonderful, ongoing ALA conference slogan—“the conversation starts here…”—only captures part of the overall experience of participating in any well-organized conference.

Conversations both start and continue here, in the sort of extended moment I have explored numerous times in blog posts and conversations. And here, in our wonderfully blended onsite-online world, is far more than the physical conference center spaces. Here is the rooms, the hallways, the simple yet masterfully organized spaces including the Networking Uncommons—where you can stop in anytime the conference is underway, grab a table, recharge your laptop and mobile devices, and with planning aforethought as well as magic of the unplanned moment, see exactly the right person at the right time to talk and dream and plan in ways that produce results you (all) would not have otherwise produced. And, equally importantly, here is the online spaces we create through Twitter backchannels, Facebook, Google Hangouts, and numerous other tools we use to reach out to our #ALALeftBehind colleagues who, in a very real sense, need no longer feel left behind—if they care to join us virtually.

When I’ve been “left behind,” I’ve experimented successfully with ways to virtually join my onsite colleagues—to the point that I’ve received tweets asking me if I’m actually onsite. So when I am lucky enough to be onsite, I work with others to actively reach out to offsite colleagues. And, again, it works. While attending a wonderful 90-minute “Adult Book Buzz” talk sponsored by HarperCollins Publishers this morning, I tweeted out a few quotes and a few links so those who following the #ALALeftBehind hashtag so they would have glimpses of what was occurring onsite—and I saw the reach of those tweets extended through retweets.

The event itself was masterfully facilitated by our HarperCollins hosts (Library Marketing Director Virginia Stanley, Marketing Associate Christopher Connolly, and Marketing Assistant Lainey Mays): as they were describing a wonderfully rich list of upcoming novels and nonfiction works from their authors, they occasionally brought those offsite authors onsite by showing brief, engaging, videos from authors who had taped greetings to us and brief descriptions of their works that are about to be published. (And it worked! Christopher Moore’s brief, very funny introduction to his upcoming novel Noir sent me over to the HarperCollins booth in the conference exhibits area late in the day to pick up an advance reader’s edition of the books so I don’t have to wait until April—when it’s scheduled to hit the bookstores and our libraries—to read it.) It gets better: our “left behind” colleagues will, a few days after I post this blog piece, be able to virtually attend the session by viewing a recording of it on a new site HarperCollins is about to launch. (I’ll update this article by adding a link to the recording as soon as it is available.)

We really are in what feels to be the early stages of an entire change in the way we meet, communicate, and engage with each other. What I have joking referred to as those “ghosts” in the hallway are actually quite real; when I want to viscerally and virtually re-engage with them, I can go back to pieces I’ve written about our conversations, reread those pieces, incorporate them into later pieces (like this one), and extend the elastic moment of conversation further by adding to it with additional tweets, Facebook postings, Google Hangouts, something as simple as a newly-initiated phone call from the conference center, or a follow-up face-to-face conversation next time we’re actually in this (or another) conference center together. (I actually did attempt to draw in a colleague who is missing the annual Midwinter Meeting for the first time since we began attending them together—the spontaneous attempt to create a Google Hangout with her so I could “walk” the aisles of the exhibits area when it first opened last night was not successful—and we actually chatted by phone for a few minutes to I could teasingly describe all the things she was—not quite—seeing. But when you and I think about those failed and successful attempts, we realize that the concept of being “left behind” is only as large and insurmountable as we and our imaginations allow it to be.

So, I write this piece in honor of all the colleagues I have seen, am seeing, and will ever see when we are “together” at the ALA Midwinter Meeting or Annual (summer) Conference), the ATD International Conference & Exposition, and other professional-family gatherings. I hope it inspires you to reach out via Twitter, Facebook, phone, or any other available means when you are here and others aren’t. And I hope it inspires you to reach out in those same and other ways when you are offsite—and ready to be onsite as quickly as your virtual modes of transportation can get you here. Let’s give those “ghosts” the attention and support they need; the rewards to every member of our communities and to the communities themselves are virtually limitless.


ALA Midwinter 2018 (Denver): Rethinking, Re-viewing, and Walking Through a Magical Forest

February 9, 2018

A colleague (Puck Malamud) here in Denver for the American Library Association (ALA) 2018 Midwinter Meeting, which formally begins later today (Friday, February 9, 2018), accurately observed during our brunch yesterday that librarians and other trainer-teacher-learner-doers—what Jonathan Nalder calls “edunauts”—are completely “meta.” We love to look at the thing behind the thing: if we’re immersed in learning, we love exploring how learners learn; if we’re writers, we love exploring the writing process itself; and if we’re thinking about the myriad possible futures for libraries and other critically important learning organizations, we’re going to be talking about, re-viewing, and rethinking the very processes we use to help nurture the future(s) of our dreams.

Sitting with University of South Carolina School of Library and Information Science Director R. David Lankes for dinner shortly after I arrived late Wednesday afternoon, I found the meta and rethinking flowing freely very early during a conversation about how we are rethinking the roles of libraries and library staff within the communities we serve. Responding to a question I asked him about his latest projects, he described how he and his faculty colleagues are exploring the very terminology they use to describe the sort of organization they are continuing to nurture at the university. Where we have seen “library “ schools evolve into “information” schools, Dave and his colleagues are taking it an additional step and “placing a stake in the ground” to promote the development of a “school of knowledge”—a place where the focus is not on the library or the information, but on the impact that the university’s graduates will have on the communities they serve throughout their careers through thoughtful application of the knowledge they have gained—and continue to gain as lifelong learners.

It’s a theme Dave has been developing and exploring with colleagues all over the world for the past few years—a natural extension of ideas he proposed in The Atlas of New Librarianship and other books he has written; has developed through presentations and conversations with his peers—what Jonathan would call his fellow edunauts; and will further clarify through a monograph he and University of South Carolina faculty are currently preparing for publication. And the conversation remains open to all of us through writing he has done and presentations he continues to share, including the archived recording of and slide deck (with speaker notes) for “The Opportunities and Obligations of the Knowledge School.” Although the clear and obvious target audience for that wonderfully entertaining and thought-provoking “Opportunities” presentation was a group of school librarians, it would be a shame if it didn’t reach the larger audience of edunauts engaged in training-teaching-learning-doing endeavors. All of us contributing to our wonderfully dynamic onsite-online (blended learning) environment through K-12, higher education, vocational schools, museums, libraries, and workplace learning programs need to be looking for and taking concrete actions that produce positive results. That’s what Dave and his colleagues and many others are attempting to do:

The flow of meta and rethinking continued, for me, the following night in what felt like part of one continuing and ever-expanding conversation as I had dinner with Denver-based colleagues/friends/sources of inspiration Pat Wagner and Leif Smith. The conversation, toward the end of the evening, turned to a discussion about the process of rethinking how to conduct interviews for a book in progress. I mentioned to Leif that I was capturing interviewees’ comments though the use of Google Docs for the interviews themselves. (The interviewees have access to a unique document for each interview. I post questions. They respond in real time, which means I see their thoughts taking shape on the page word by word, and I can actually be formulating and entering new questions that help clarify their response while they are still in the middle of crafting their answers. The completed document, after light editing for style and typographic errors, becomes the accurate transcript from which I draw material for inclusion in the book.) This process produces richly evocative passages in each interviewee’s own voice—often conversational, but also refined in-the-moment through that typed-chat format—and obviously contains more content than I’ll ever be able to use in the book (Change the World Using Social Media). So I have been taking some of the more focused interviews and running them, in their entirety, as separate articles on my blog along with excerpts from the manuscript-in-progress as a way of obtaining early peer review that will help shape the final content.

Leif, fascinated by what was for him a new approach to interviewing, provided one of those amazing observations that just spring full-blown from him as if poetic phrasing and inspiring thought grows on the trees in his head: “A book is like the footprints of a creature that has walked through a magical forest, and if you follow those footprints, something like the spirit of the forest enters into you. That’s what happens if the book is really good.

I later joked with friends who often gather for evening coffee and dessert at the end of the day at conferences, that I never did get around to ordering dessert after that dinner with Pat and Leif. But, I added, that lovely passage really wasn’t, after all, dessert; it was a second main course, expertly prepared by one of the great thought-chefs in my life, and a reminder that our experiences at conferences along the lines of ALA’s Midwinter Meeting extend far beyond the walls of the rooms where the formal presentations and discussions are occurring.


Next Steps for a Beyond Horizons (2.0) Community

January 4, 2018

The following piece was prepared collaboratively by Lisa Gustinelli, Jonathan Nalder, and Paul Signorelli; each of us is publishing and sharing it on our own sites in the spirit of the collaboration that the piece documents. Please repost.

We’re a community that knows how to work, play, and, when necessary (as we have recently learned), grieve together. The key to dealing with those unexpected moments of grief seems to be in looking ahead as we bury our dead and tend to the survivors.

Those of us who were part of the NMC (New Media Consortium) global family, tribe, and community of learning for many years were stunned, a couple of weeks ago, by the sudden, completely unexpected news that our NMC friends/staff/colleagues had been suddenly laid off during the holiday season and, as the official (unsigned) statement distributed by former Board President Gardner Campbell via email noted on December 18, 2017, the “NMC will be promptly commencing a chapter 7 bankruptcy case. A trustee will be appointed by the court to wind down NMC’s financial affairs, liquidate its assets and distribute any net proceeds to creditors…” Those who loved the ed-tech reports issued through NMC’s Horizon Project, which documented ed tech projects, developments, trends, and challenges across both formal and informal learning sectors, are concerned that a project with more than 16 years of insights and impact worldwide could die along with the NMC.

Here one minute, gone the next: It’s the classic Talebian Black Swan—something so stunningly unexpected and world-changing for those involved (akin to the first, completely unanticipated sighting of a black swan where only white swans had previously been seen) that it shakes our beliefs and perceptions to the core. (None of us has been able to overlook the irony that one of the biggest Black Swans we have encountered came in the form of the dissolution of the very organization that had brought the concept of the Black Swan to our attention through a combination of conversations, articles, and a summit some of us attended in January 2015—three years ago this month.)

Dissecting the situation to determine what caused this particularly unwelcome Black Swan to land in our pond is going to keep a lot of people busy for a very long time.

Frankly, that’s not our concern. As we heard so many times decades ago on the original Star Trek television show, “He’s dead, Jim,” and others will have to handle the NMC funeral and respectfully deal with what remains of the corpse.

In less than two weeks, however, numerous members of the community that was originally fostered and sustained through the New Media Consortium have come together to determine what we will do to continue our work and play and exploration together in a post-NMC world. It only took us a few days of intensive online conversations and phone calls to determine that our greatest asset—one that cannot be monetized by any trustee or sold  through any bankruptcy proceedings—is the extended, collaborative, global group of innovative educators-trainers-learners-doers (what one of us lovingly calls “Edunauts”) who produced, under Creative Commons licensing, much of what made NMC such a dynamic organization with such far-reaching impact.

We are members of a vital, vibrant, dynamic community. That community is not dead, even if the organization that helped it grow and thrive is. By the end of the same week the announcement of the NMC’s immediate dissolution appeared, four of us (Lisa, Jonathan, Paul, and Bryan Alexander) had initiated community-wide conversations that led to creation of a landing place for the community: the Beyond the Horizon community on Slack.

We are at a very early stage in the evolution of this community—in some ways, it feels as if the NMC’s body hasn’t yet been placed into the ground—but we are already seeing the genesis of a community bootstrapping itself forward in hopeful and promising ways:

We are, individually and collectively, working as friends/colleagues/collaborators/cultivators, each tilling the vineyards we know best, collectively working toward the same goal of moving past this tragedy and keeping the momentum of this community going. And we hope you’ll join us, informally and formally, as we continue the learning journey the NMC community was on for nearly 25 years.


Chris Duderstadt: Building Community One Bench at a Time

October 2, 2017

While we often talk about taking positive actions step by step to improve our communities, Inner Sunset Park Neighbors Board Vice President Chris Duderstadt has persistently been making San Francisco’s Inner Sunset District and other areas better bench by bench. His Public Bench Project is now responsible for having created and added 100 colorful, attractive, welcoming places to sit, so a group of Inner Sunset neighbors gathered with Chris a week ago to celebrate the contributions he and other collaborating members of our community have made to enriching our public spaces.

Public-Bench_Project[2].pngHe built and installed his first public bench 40 years ago, and his own Inner Sunset home continues to feature one of the earliest benches. Interest in his work gained increasing amounts of attention over a very long period of time, he recalled during our conversation last week. The effort began growing rapidly approximately five years ago, when he formally created The Public Bench Project. Supporters have brought increasingly large amounts of loving attention to the project. Articles in local publications have helped to spread the word about the project and the presence of those lovely, hand-crafted benches. Those involved in offering space for additional benches are often involved in adorning them with the playfully colorful patterns that make them so attractive (the bench at the foot of the Hidden Garden Steps was painted by artist/art instructor Angie Crabtree and her students from the Woodside International School here in our neighborhood), and Chris himself has painted wonderful designs on a substantial number of those benches.

Many of us—residents and visitors alike—have enjoyed numerous conversations fostered by the availability of those lovely little meeting places where we interact with people we might not otherwise have met. And like the two neighborhood large-scale ceramic-tiled steps projects that serve as meeting places for people from all over the world, the benches are spectacular variations on Ray Oldenburg’s concept of the Third Place—those places where people know they can meet, talk, plan, and dream together.

Public_Bench_Project[1].pngIt certainly hasn’t been an easy process for Chris and others who continue to make this project thrive. There are always those who express concern that the introduction of a new bench (or a new ceramic-tiled staircase) will somehow attract “unwanted” people to the place a bench or other attraction is placed—and, of course, the homeless are generally the first to be mentioned as examples of those who are unwanted. But the success of the benches, the Moraga Steps, and the Hidden Garden Steps serve as a strong response—as so many of us remind those who are concerned—that being homeless is not a crime; it’s the uncivil behavior of some people (not all of whom are homeless, by the way) that is a concern, and that’s something we can and do address firmly when that particular problem arises. What some of us have found is that by sharing spaces with a variety of people—including the homeless members of our community—we have an opportunity to get to know them better so all of us can work together to make the neighborhood a better place.

With all the celebration that took place at that 100th-bench celebration came a bit of sadness for those of us who know and admire Chris and what he does. He explained an imminent hiatus in the project in a recent email:

“Let me thank you for your support of the Public Bench Project. We have made our neighborhoods more walkable and just plain friendlier. Over the past 40 years I have been able to place 100 benches in publicly accessible locations.

“It’s with great sadness that the Public Bench Project will be going on the disabled list for a while. I’m having major back surgery and, if successful, it will be at least 6 months before I can make benches again.

“From the outer Richmond and Sunset, to Dog Patch, to the Bay View, and even across the bay in San Pablo, you have allowed me to place benches. I believe we have all made the world just a little bit better.

“I trust you all have been able to experience the joy of doing this. While recovering, I hope to be able to figure out Facebook and create a venue to share our experiences.

“Thank you again. It’s been a good run.”

And it’s a good run that many of us look forward to continuing as soon as Chris is ready to get back on the bench and create more community meeting places for all of us.


%d bloggers like this: