Promoting Universal Broadband Access With Gina Millsap (Part 2 of 2)

March 23, 2021

This is the second part of a two-part interview conducted with Gina Millsap, retired Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library (TSCPL) CEO and a longtime advocate of broadband access for work and learning. An article drawn from the interview is available on the ShapingEDU blog.

In your article “We All Need Broadband” [April 7, 2020], you mentioned that “some parts of our community don’t have quality, affordable broadband, especially in the rural areas of Shawnee County.” I’ve always been impressed by how you and your colleagues responded to community needs by setting up an entire online branch of the library to serve those who, living in rural parts of your service area, couldn’t easily visit a physical library building. Can you tell a story that shows how you and your colleagues overcame some of the challenges of Internet access to provide those online services?

There are a few things. TSCPL equipped bookmobiles as hot spots and has been providing technology training for the community for well over 20 years. What is somewhat discouraging is that the “Taming the Mouse” class is still offered. I say that because it’s still needed. And TSCPL installed about 170 public access computers in the early 2000s to ensure that people had the access they needed to communicate, apply for jobs, learn more about technology tools, and provide themselves with entertainment. I have become less enamored of these stopgap measures in the past few years. That’s because I think they’ve allowed other community leaders to think, “The library has this covered, so we don’t have to worry about it.”

So, a question—are you asking about challenges the library faced? Honestly, the big challenge for many libraries were two-fold: did they have the money to upgrade their technology and broadband services as needed and to invest in technology? Did they have the staff expertise to manage that technology and help educate their communities? TSCPL had both, and chose to make those investments. Many libraries didn’t have the resources to do that. 

Makes sense to me; thanks. Whose work in fostering broadband access do you admire—and why?

I’m appreciative of the work that SHLB [Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband Coalition] is doing and the fact that they are developing a strong coalition of key partners. They are giving a voice to public-sector needs that hasn’t existed before. I’m also appreciative of the work ULC [Urban Libraries Council] is doing with its Digital Equity Action Team that is working to educate and encourage library leaders to do more in this space than be service providers for the have-nots in our communities. There are a number of individual libraries in the U.S. and Canada that are engaged in excellent work—many of them as part of community coalitions. I’m more interested in those activities and think they will have a greater long-term impact than continuing to provide short-term services like circulating hot spots. Note I’m not dissing those efforts. Those are important because they are addressing immediate needs, but they’re not solutions. 

Drawing upon your extensive experience, what would you suggest individuals can do to support broadband access locally, regionally, and nationally?

They should become advocates for universal broadband. They should hold their local- and state-elected officials accountable for improving access to broadband for all residents. They should participate in the reframing of this discussion as one of social equity, not technology. Thank the community leaders that are showing an interest, support them. Learn more about the issues—the technology, the legislation, the players in the public and private sectors. 

What have I not asked that you hoped to cover?

I think the main thing is that this is a community, state, and national issue. It’s not about consumerism, or not exclusively about that. It’s about ensuring all citizens have the tools they need to thrive in their communities. I also don’t want to appear as if I’m viewing the service providers as the antagonists, although that can happen—especially if municipalities are considering becoming providers. It’s going to take strong public/private partnerships to make this happen, but elected officials must be knowledgeable enough to write better laws, and visionary enough to understand that, like roads, electricity, and water, broadband should be viewed as essential infrastructure.

N.B. — Paul is one of three Storytellers in Residence for ShapingEDU (July 2020-June 2021).


Promoting Universal Broadband Access With Gina Millsap (Part 1 of 2)

March 23, 2021

This is the first part of a two-part interview conducted with Gina Millsap, retired Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library (TSCPL) CEO and a longtime advocate of broadband access for work and learning. An article drawn from the interview is available on the ShapingEDU blog.

Our friend Maurice Coleman [a keynote speaker, trainer, and facilitator who also serves as host for the T is for Training podcast] has said that advocates and activists don’t necessarily “start out wanting to change the world. They usually start out wanting to change this…that one situation.” What was that “one situation” that first drew you to efforts to support universal broadband access and access to the tools needed to effectively use the Internet for work and learning?”

It actually started for me in the early 1990s, when I had the opportunity to work on the COIN (Columbia (MO) Online Information Network) project. It was the first ISP in the state of Missouri and was a collaboration of the University of Missouri, the City of Columbia, Boone County, the local school district, and the library I worked for—the Daniel Boone Regional Library. I was head of computer services for the library and also became the head of technical and end-user support for COIN because my library had the management contract for it. I saw, very early on, the power of shared online communication and information with community networking and what it could mean for public libraries, local government, and the community. Later, we included small private telephone companies who were often willing to let us locate modem pools in their facilities and whose owners could see the potential of the Internet before the big service providers figured out how to make money on it. 

Can you tell a story that shows how lack of broadband access or lack of access to the tools needed to effectively use the Internet for work and learning made this personal for you or someone close to you?

When libraries first introduced access to computers and then to the Internet, it became clear that there was and would be a huge divide in our communities and in this country—those who had access to technology and those who didn’t. The phrase “digital divide” is pretty hackneyed now, but when I saw how many people engaged with the library for the first time, it was an epiphany for me. I still remember a gentleman in his eighties—Mr. Belcher. His son lived and worked in Japan, but he was seldom able to connect with him because long distance calls were so expensive. When COIN went live, he was one of the first people to sign up. He had a Radio Shack computer with a 300 baud modem. He would call me with updates on how he could communicate via email on a daily basis with his son. It literally changed his life. 

Also, when I realized that no matter how many computers we installed in libraries, in the ‘90s and early 2000s, it wasn’t going to be enough, especially when PCs were so expensive and complicated. So it wasn’t just one story, it was how people saw this, wanted it, and ultimately needed it. It also continued and strengthened the equity work of public libraries. One of the reasons I’ve worked on broadband planning and advocacy so much in the past few years is a concern that libraries have inadvertently contributed to the digital inequity with the investments we make in digital content that isn’t available to those who aren’t digitally literate or who can’t afford the equipment or broadband services. The pandemic put a harsh spotlight on how flawed our systems are and how inequitable they are. 

That raises an immediate question: what are some of those flaws and inequalities? 

From my perspective, the flaws are attributable to the fact that local governments (and many states) haven’t owned this issue. Most of them have left it to the providers, whose business plans don’t align with all community needs. So, the gaps caused by where you live, how much money you have, how technologically adept you are keep getting bigger. I think internet should probably be regulated like a utility and the goal should be universal access.

Public libraries tend to be gap fillers. By that, I mean that needs like access to devices and broadband, have been left to that one institution while it should be a goal for all residents. There’s also a huge need for technology literacy. Even students who have grown up with computers aren’t necessarily information literate. We’ve focused so much on the technology that we’ve neglected what should accompany the use of these tools—critical-thinking skills, civic engagement, and understanding of what it means to participate in a democracy. The tools have become the endgame instead of a means to an end.

There also needs to be more action at the federal level—and I don’t mean just throwing more money at the big legacy providers who own all the fiber networks.

How can we work together to overcome the flaws and inequalities you’re noting here?

Planning and evaluation of the quality of services should be community-based. People need to be viewed as more than consumers. Part of our job as citizens is to participate in our communities, our country. To do that effectively, you need equitable access to the tools. So part of it is reframing this discussion to talk about investing in ourselves and our democracy instead of just upgrading to the latest Apple watch or Samsung phone. 

N.B. — Paul is one of three Storytellers in Residence for ShapingEDU (July 2020-June 2021).


Promoting Universal Broadband Access With Beth Holland (Part 3 of 3)

February 11, 2021

This is the third part of a three-part interview conducted with Dr. Beth Holland, Partner at The Learning Accelerator, Digital Equity Advisor to CoSN (the Consortium for School Networking), and a longtime advocate of broadband access for work and learning. Two articles drawn from the interview are available on the ShapingEDU blog.

What are some of the more difficult, long-term largest barriers you continue to see to creating universal broadband access and access to the tools needed to effectively use the Internet for work and learning throughout the United States?

Beth Holland

I was at the last SHLB [Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband Coalition] conference in October of 2019. A researcher from Michigan made a great point: He explained that the state is literally solid granite and that you can’t easily put cable in granite. There are definite geographic barriers to overcome. The second one is really at a policy level. I am hoping that with Jessica Rosenworcel as acting FCC chair, maybe some of these can be addressed.

Currently, internet is considered a service and not a utility. Therefore, that’s how it’s regulated. There really isn’t the financial incentive or pressure to run broadband to every community—especially the hard-to-reach ones. There are some advocates calling for internet to become a utility so that the country can be wired in a fashion similar to the electrification project in the 1930s. Finally, and this is tied to regulation, we really have to remember cost. Even low-cost options could be too much for a family to afford. The argument can be made for internet to be considered as part of the life-line program that ensures phone access as a matter of public safety.

The learning part is a totally different question versus the access part. 

So, I think it’s important to remember that digital technology in education has really been around for centuries. Audrey Watters has a book—Teaching Machines: The History of Personalized Learning—coming out soon from MIT Press. She traces this idea of technology back to Sidney Pressey in the early 1900s. I’m thinking about digital tools that really started to take shape and influence what could be possible with learning to the 1980s. Not only did people like Seymour Papert introduce tools like MindStorms [which inspired Lego MindStorms], but there were others, like Alan Kay, who advocated that students should be learning to control computers and not the other way around. However, technology has been slow to adopt at scale. In their book Rethinking Education in the Age of Technology: The Digital Revolution and Schooling in America, [Allan] Collins and [Richard] Halverson explain that there has always been technology in education, but digital technology fundamentally threatens the systems and structures on which schools and teachers base their identities. Basically, digital tools mean that students can learn anywhere, any time, and from anyone. This creates a real system of threat. For decades, technology has been that add-on that some kids might use. However, COVID has changed that and made technology almost synonymous to learning because of the need for remote/hybrid contexts. The real barrier is now what kind of learning will happen as we move forward. Since teachers have become more comfortable with tools, does that mean that they can now start to rethink instruction? There’s a ton of potential now that a lot of the actual physical barriers to access have been decreased (though still 12 million + kids unconnected), and some of the lack of familiarity reduced. I hope that education policy and district initiatives will continue to focus on helping teachers, leaders, and also broader school communities reimagine what learning could look like if these tools are harnessed to create more personalized experiences where students have agency and choice in how they demonstrate their learning and how their learning needs are met. 

Drawing upon your extensive experience, what would you suggest individuals can do to support broadband access locally, regionally, and nationally?

Nationally, there needs to be policy changes to make broadband access seen as a public good—like electricity or water. There also needs to be funding to support both school and home access for students. For an immediate thing to consider, CoSN, ISTE [the International Society for Technology in Education], and SETDA do an annual ed-tech advocacy event where educators receive training in the latest policy recommendations and then spend a day meeting with their representatives’ offices to ensure that the message can get through. It’s virtual again this year and also includes conversations at the [US] Department of Education and FCC.

Regionally, I guess this is tricky because regions are so diverse in this country. A lot of states have regional education groups. A big thing to consider is how regional groups can band together to have more collective bargaining power. Each regional group may have a different acronym (BOCES, LEA, etc.), but all can work together. I know that in Colorado, the regional groups file for E-Rate together so that they can get better rates to offset their costs.

Locally, I think it’s important to be aware of who does/doesn’t have access. Teachers may either over/under estimate the amount of connectivity that their students have. Matthew Hiefield, from Beaverton, Oregon, helped me write a post a while ago about questions to ask students. Teshon Christie in Kent, Washington made a great point about not only assuming students have access, but [about] the danger of assuming that they don’t. He’s found that some families prioritize access while others may not. His district has been very deliberate about finding out who needs support from the district instead of using a general metric like free or reduced-price lunch to drive assumptions.

What have I not asked that you hoped to cover?

I think that there are two critical considerations. First, digital equity is incredibly nuanced and complex. Simply getting access does not solve the problem. It is also going to continue to morph as technologies change. For example, as AI becomes increasingly ubiquitous, there are a host of new considerations for school and community leaders. Second, this comes back to the empathy comment that you made earlier: any solution really needs to consider the context and community. What needs to happen beyond access and digital literacy to also address broader issues of media literacy and even algorithmic literacy? I’ve been thinking about the issues of Pandora’s box. We can open it and let things out, but if we haven’t considered the potential unintended consequences of throwing out access without helping students and adults fully develop an understanding of the implications and connotations, then the potential exists to further inequity and not address it. The NDIA has been having this conversation a lot lately, and I think that it’s an important one. 

N.B. — Paul is one of three Storytellers in Residence for ShapingEDU (July 2020-June 2021).


Promoting Universal Broadband Access With Beth Holland (Part 1 of 3)

February 11, 2021

This is the first part of a three-part interview conducted with Dr. Beth Holland, Partner at The Learning Accelerator, Digital Equity Advisor to CoSN (the Consortium for School Networking), and a longtime advocate of broadband access for work and learning. Two articles drawn from the interview are available on the ShapingEDU blog.

Let’s dive right into the substance of what you’re doing. What first drew you to the challenge of providing broadband Internet access for work and learning?

When I was working on my dissertation, I was taking a class in Disciplinary Approaches to Education. It had us examine our problem of practice through multiple lenses. At the time, I thought that the “problem” was lack of access to high quality professional development to help teachers transform education. (I dropped that, but it’s a different story). In looking at the problem through a sociological lens, I started thinking about the role of the digital divide. If teachers—and thus schools/students—do not have access to the Internet and technology, then why would they even think about using it in education? This was sort of a wake-up call for me. 

The literature that I explored touched on both the actual digital-access and also the emerging evidence of the digital-use divide—the finding that students in schools in underserved communities may have similar access to computers/Internet as their more affluent peers, but typically use that technology for more rote/remedial learning, test prep, and content consumption rather than in more creative and cognitively demanding ways. At the time, my dissertation advisor recommended that I not go in that particular direction with my research. However, the second that I finished my dissertation, I circled back around to it. So, since 2018, digital equity has become a primary research focus. 

Let’s take this down to the human/personal story level: how has lack of adequate Internet access and access to the tools needed to use the Internet for work and learning affected you and those you know? 

So, I am going to admit my privilege here. Where I am geographically located, I have full cell service and access to high-speed Internet. I’ve had a laptop, plus numerous other devices, since the late 1990s. However, I think the real wakeup call has happened in a few different instances. First, my husband and I like to do a lot of hiking. When we drive places, I’ve become incredibly attuned to whether or not we have cell service—not because I want to be online, but because I’m trying to get a sense of the magnitude of the disparity of access in a tangible way. We drove from Salt Lake City to Escalante National Park a few years ago, and I counted miles between cell signals and any place of business that might possibly offer Wi-Fi to kids. It made me realize how some possible solutions to the digital divide really aren’t feasible. Last fall, we were driving in rural New Hampshire with no signal. At one point, a Dollar Store was the only major business, and it was about 30 minutes to find a gas station. I saw satellite dishes in yards, so I am guessing there was no cable. I was thinking about conditions of schools and the feasibility of getting access. It made me very aware of the need for policymakers to take a ride and recognize the challenge that so many are facing right now to get access.

One last story: A few years ago, I was doing research in pre-schools as part of my post-doc. I got a text message on my phone that there was a new message in the medical portal from my doctor. The portal didn’t work on a mobile device, so I logged in when I got home (privileges #1-3: cell signal, home Internet, and a computer). Apparently, I was at high-risk for measles, and there were ongoing outbreaks at the time. I could schedule an appointment for a blood test to see if my vaccine was still good. Turns out that it wasn’t, and I needed a new vaccine from CVS. Everything was coordinated through the portal and took no time, but what about the person who didn’t know to sign up for the portal, who couldn’t access it, and who might not have the digital-literacy skills to navigate it? Understanding all of this has made me hyperaware of the digital-equity challenges—not just in terms of physical access, but also the necessary skills behind having that access.

What you have just said makes me aware of another overlooked aspect to the issue of promoting universal broadband access throughout the United States: the importance of empathy. That’s such an important starting point for any successful movement to increase Internet access.

Yes! I actually had a similar conversation with someone a few months ago. Too many assumptions get made about whether access in itself will solve the issues. However, we have to remember the diversity of this country. It’s going to be very different depending on the culture and context of each community. I was just reading a new report [Looking Back, Looking Forward: What It Will Take to Permanently Close the K-12 Digital Divide, January 27, 2021] this morning from Common Sense and BCG [Boston Consulting Group]. They touch on this idea that a barrier to adoption could be more cognitive than financial or geographic/physical (e.g., no service). 

Another point: Have you seen Dr. Charlton McIlwain’s book on Black Software: The Internet & Racial Justice, from the AfroNet to Black Lives Matter, or Dr. S. Craig Watkins’ work in The Digital Edge: How Black and Latino Youth Navigate Digital Inequality? Both of them, in different ways, touch on the white narrative surrounding technology adoption. Particularly for non-white communities, adoption could look different. Universal access needs to be considered from a more universal perspective, and all voices need to be honored and valued in designing solutions (e.g., stop saying that underserved communities could get served with refurbished devices that the white/affluent community doesn’t want.).

N.B. — Paul is one of three Storytellers in Residence for ShapingEDU (July 2020-June 2021).


AEJMC 2015 Annual Conference, Day 1: On Homecomings, Digital Literacy, and Lifelong Learning

August 7, 2015

For trainer-teacher-learners with backgrounds in journalism—and I suspect there are plenty of us—attending the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communications (AEJMC)  98th Annual Conference (held here in San Francisco this year) is a bit of a homecoming.

AEJMC_2015--Logo[2]It’s not just the joy of being around more than 2,000 thoughtful, innovative colleagues from all over the world as we explore trends, challenges, and developments in journalism and mass communication; it’s an opportunity to see how our training-teaching-learning colleagues in a vitally important part of our contemporary world are continuing to hone their own skills while fostering the next generation(s) of professionals who will shape the face of the industry and the world it serves.

As is the case with any ambitiously-designed conference, the number of sessions to explore is overwhelming and hints at the importance of incorporating at least a couple of digital-literacy skills into the experience of treating conferences as part of our lifelong-learning experiences: the skill of sifting through torrents of information (in this case, to initially identify what is most likely to contribute to our own lifelong-learning needs), and an ability to use digital resources to enhance our learning. These skills, I might add, are clearly essential not just to the journalism and mass communications colleagues whose company I’m currently enjoying, but to any of us involved in the constantly-evolving world of training-teaching-learning.

The sifting, in this case, takes place at a variety of levels. Access to the online schedule before arriving onsite at the conference gave us an opportunity to make preliminary decisions regarding which sessions would most likely meet our learning needs. Receiving the printed copy of the 270-page conference book onsite allows us to fine-tune those choices a bit more. Following the Twitter feed from the conference draws our attention to colleagues’ recommendations for opportunities we might otherwise have missed. And hallway conversations add the icing to the conference cake by giving us opportunities to meet presenters whose sessions might otherwise not have made it onto our must-attend lists.

Rethinking_Digital_Literacy--Course_GraphicUsing digital resources to enhance our learning not only while we’re here but long after the conference formally concludes is something equally worth noting and exploring. The simple act of tweeting highlights from sessions we attend pays off at several levels: we produce a set of online notes to which we later can return to continue our learning; we see onsite colleagues’ tweets from those sessions and others we are not physically able to join, thereby increasing the breadth and scope of our conference/learning experience; we occasionally engage online with colleagues who couldn’t be here physically but feel less “left behind” because of our online exchanges; and the natural inclination to occasionally, while a session is underway, go online to find a site that further explains what is being discussed means we are extending the reach of these physical learning spaces well into the virtual world to create an onsite-online classroom that is limited only by our imaginations and access to the Internet.

This plays out nicely, as I saw during a “State of the Industry” panel discussion—the first session I was able to attend at the conference—yesterday afternoon. At the heart of the learning experience was a first-rate set of panelists: panel moderator Bob Papper, Director, RTDNA (Radio Television Digital News Association) /Hofstra University Annual [Industry] Survey; Teri Hayt, Executive Director, American Society of News Editors (ASNE); David Smydra, Executive Producer, Google Play Newstand; and Robert Hernandez, Associate Professor of Professional Practice at USC Annenberg. Adding to the experience was our ability, while tweeting highlights of the session, to see tweets from colleagues in other sessions where subject matter occasionally complemented what we were absorbing—which provided an opportunity, at a limited level, to actually create a much larger virtual learning space than any of us might have anticipated. Another element—common to what I experience while attending conferences these days—was the opportunity to extend that virtual classroom to include online resources that could provide additional background to unfamiliar topics the panelists were presenting.

Connected_China--FathomThe online-resources-as-extension-of-learning-space opportunity was particularly rewarding when Smydra introduced us to the concept of Structured Journalism—something he described as being “what digital media wants journalism to be” in that it makes the various bits and pieces of data (in various media) collected by journalists and the numerous resources going into news stories more accessible and reusable than they otherwise might be. While he was valiantly attempting to describe this somewhat complex concept in a brief period of time by providing visually-appealing examples (e.g., the Thomson Reuters Connected China project), I continued to listen to him and glance at his slides while also doing a quick online search to see whether he had any online resources providing a more in-depth exploration of the topic. And there, among the gems, was the article “Structured journalism offers readers a different kind of story experience,” written by Chava Gourarie for the Columbia Journalism Review and including quotes form Smydra, including this one that captures the concept beautifully: “It not only produces incredible stories but creates this reservoir of material that reporters and readers can call upon for future stories.”

AEJMC_2015--logoIt was at that moment that I realized I was experiencing a key learning moment described by so many of our best training-teaching-learning colleagues: that moment of learning that builds upon what we previously learned. As a blogger (as opposed to the broader role of writing articles and co-writing a book), I’ve come to appreciate the obvious and unique art form online writing offers: the ability to develop a cohesive piece of work that, through hyperlinks, allows readers to read start-to-finish or take as many detours as they care to take—and if I also make the piece more visually stimulating by embedding photographs or images of videos that include live links, I’ve further taken advantage of what this particular art form offers me and those who read my work. Smydra’s comments inspired an instantaneous building-upon-previous-learning leap from what I have been seeing in blogging to what I was beginning to see in Structured Journalism: a form that includes writing, imagery, video work, and more combined as unique, innovative, creative mash-ups providing another cohesive form of work/writing/journalism—with the added benefit of producing additional unique elements/source material that could be repurposed elsewhere.

As I continue thinking about what Smydra and his colleagues provided through their presentations, I continue taking advantage of the numerous streams of information and other resources that make conferences so richly rewarding as part of our lifelong learning landscape. There are the tweets. The conversations over a meal during an opening-night reception last night. The Storify recap of conference highlights from sessions yesterday. The bookmarked websites I accessed to write this piece as well as the websites to which I haven’t yet had time to return. My own stream of conference-related tweets (August 6 – 9, 2015) through my @trainersleaders Twitter account. And links to PowerPoint slide decks and other resources allowing us to draw upon our digital-literacy skills to continue the learning that is proving so rewarding in this and expanded moments of learning. All of which makes me suspect that Structured Journalism is already claiming a place in my training-teaching-learning-writing world.

N.B. – This report from the AEJMC 2015 Annual Conference is also the fifth in a series of reflections inspired by our ALA Editions “Rethinking Digital Literacy” course.


ALA 2015 Annual Conference: Digital Literacy, Onsite-Online Learning, & No Colleague Left Behind

August 6, 2015

Helping colleagues learn how to create blended onsite-online learning spaces by actually creating blended onsite-online learning spaces is an exercise we are far from exhausting, as I saw once again while facilitating a session at the American Library Association (ALA) 2015 Annual Conference here in San Francisco a month ago.

Rethinking_Digital_Literacy--Course_GraphicBeing able to foster this sort of blended interaction seems to me to be another critically-important digital-literacy skill along the lines of what colleagues are exploring in our ALA Editions “Rethinking Digital Literacy” course; is not at all difficult or costly to do if we creatively use tech tools readily available to many of us; and actually becomes a fun and engaging way for many of us to extend the size of the learning spaces we typically inhabit, we again saw during that “Blend It” session sponsored by ALA’s Library and Information Technology Association (LITA).

The concept, which I’ve explored with colleagues in a variety of settings, is straightforward: using little more than a laptop with a webcam, a projector and screen, and some form of audio system (either a small, portable set of speakers or a connection to an existing sound system within the onsite space that serves as the anchor for our efforts), we create real-time multiple levels of communication between learners/colleagues in a physical setting and colleagues who join us via their own online access points anywhere in the world. This quickly transforms those offsite learners/colleagues from being part of a “left behind” group to being active participants in a learning space that can be thousands of miles wide if those colleagues come from a variety of countries.

ALA_San_Francisco--2015_LogoWhat makes this personally rewarding for all involved is that we continue to learn through experimentation. The earliest effort I was lucky enough to help design and facilitate used Skype as the tool uniting an offsite presenter with approximately 200 colleagues here in San Francisco for a dynamic and tremendously rewarding exchange. The experiments continued a few years later when two colleagues and I used Skype and Twitter to connect onsite and online participants in a wide-ranging conversation about how we could incorporate these tools and these blended spaces into effective learning spaces. New Media Consortium colleague Samantha Adams Becker and I continue to push this particular learning envelop via Google Hangouts in a variety of settings, so I was ready, at the ALA Annual Conference this year, to carry it a step further by adding a “bring your own device” element to the conversation.

After introducing onsite participants to the concepts we were exploring, Harford County Public Library tech trainer Maurice Coleman and I demonstrated the concept by having Maurice step outside the room, use his own smartphone to join a Google Hangout I had started with my own laptop and was projecting onto a large screen that everyone in the room could see, and carry on a brief conversation that those in the room could join by addressing questions to him via the microphone that was embedded in the laptop.

LITA_LogoThe magic moment came when he physically returned to the room—it’s worth noting that by remaining visible and audible via that smartphone, he had never really left the room or the conversation—and we offered onsite participants a challenge: quickly identify someone you know could not be here at the conference, try to reach them using your own mobile device, and bring them into the room now via a Google Hangout. It was learning at its best: those unfamiliar with Hangouts helped others try to set up individual sessions; those familiar with Hangouts tried to initiate their own. And those who were successful let the rest of us know that had eliminated another member of the “left behind” corps through that virtual contact.

ala_leftbehindAt its peak, we had nearly a dozen individual hangouts happening simultaneously, and those in the room completely made the learning space their own: some explained to their friends what they were doing and what others were accomplishing; a few kept those sessions live for the remainder of the time we had together. And one particularly creative learner left her seat and gave her offsite colleague a virtual tour of the room by walking around and introducing our offsite colleague to others who were onsite.

It may have been gimmicky. It may have been far from pretty. But it was an exploration of digital literacy and educational technology at work in a way that provided a visceral example of how far we literally have come together. How easy it is for us to foster those levels of training, teaching, learning, and collaboration when we’re not afraid to risk failure in seeking small and large successes. And how easy it is to have fun while creating memorable, meaningful learning experiences that will continue spreading long after that formal session ended.

N.B. – This is the fourth (and final) in a series of reflections inspired by the American Library Association 2015 Annual Conference in San Francisco and the fifth in a series of reflections inspired by our ALA Editions “Rethinking Digital Literacy” course.


ALA 2015 Annual Conference: LITA Top Tech Trends, Digital Literacy, and Conversing Fast and Slow

July 31, 2015

LITA_LogoOne interesting tech trend that didn’t seem to draw any attention at a first-rate “Top Tech Trends” presentation at the American Library Association (ALA) 2015 Annual Conference here in San Francisco last month is inspiring me to write about the panel discussion nearly a month after it took place: the trend toward (and digital-literacy skill of) using online resources to extend a moment of conversation over a potentially very long period of time. The extended moment we’re going to have as a case study here is the one that began with that session on June 28, 2015, continues as I write this on July 31, 2015, and extends further into whatever day you’re reading and, with any luck, joining the conversational moment by responding to it.

There were plenty of notable tech trends covered during that session (viewable in an archived recording) sponsored and facilitated by the Library and Information Technology Association (LITA), and I’ll return to those by drawing from what we might call a Tweeter’s Digest version created in the form of an edited Storify transcript of the tweets coming out of the session.

ALA_San_Francisco--2015_LogoBut let’s focus, for a moment, on the larger, paradoxical situation/long-term trend in which we are, at the same time, driven to respond as quickly as possible online to what we encounter and yet, at the same time, are equally at ease finding something that has been online for an extended period of time before we discover and—more importantly—respond to it as if it were newly created rather than disdainfully treating it as something waiting for someone to breathe new life into it. That’s what we might call “conversing, fast and slow” if we were to puckishly name it by modifying the title of Daniel Kahneman’s thoughtful treatise Thinking, Fast and Slow.

At a time when we are sometimes (mistakenly) encouraged to believe that responses to online posts (e.g., in Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and a variety of other social media tools) must receive immediate responses if they are to receive any response at all, I’m encouraged to find that responding to older posts, articles, or other resources leads to some amazingly reflective and rewarding exchanges creating those very long moments I’m attempting to describe here. And that’s what is inspiring me to return to what some might consider to be “old news”—a brief summary and reaction to an event that happened last month—with the understanding that the delay in calling attention to the panel discussion is far less important than the act of extending the reach of that conversation via this article, the link to the archived recording, and the link to the Storify transcript which includes attendees’ initial in-the-moment reaction to the descriptions of the tech trends under review.

An interesting and important theme connecting the various panelists’ tech trends descriptions was something library staff members often try to foster: collaborative efforts combined with a commitment to providing access to useful resources. As we heard about continuing efforts to provide “free, ubiquitous internet access in cities,” we had the visceral example of the LinkNYC project, a collaborative effort between City Bridge, New York City officials, and others; it’s designed to provide around-the-clock free Internet access and touchscreen-tablet interface with City services and other resources. As we heard about cross-sector collaboration as a tech trend, we had the possibility of previously-unimagined sharing of data between a variety of organizations in ways that served those using services provided by those organizations. And when we heard about an apparent renaissance in podcasting, we had colleagues jumping into the onsite-online conversation via Twitter to suggest partnerships between library staff and podcast producers, and other colleagues tweeting podcasts that might be of interest to those engaged in the session.

Rethinking_Digital_Literacy--Course_GraphicThere is plenty more to explore in the Storify transcript and the archived recording, but what brings us full circle here is the realization that by reading this article, following the links to resources of interest to us, and responding, we immediately become part of the extended moment that transforms a one-time panel discussion into part of a continuing conversation that enriches all of us, fast and slow. And adds to what we as trainer-teacher-learners can foster.

N.B. – This is the third in a series of reflections inspired by the American Library Association 2015 Annual Conference in San Francisco and the fourth in a series of reflections inspired by our ALA Editions “Rethinking Digital Literacy” course.


Rethinking Digital Literacy: Collaborating, Hyperlinking, and Owning Our Learning

July 30, 2015

With my ALA Editions “Rethinking Digital Literacy” co-conspirators (AKA learners) currently exploring the broad question of “who owns the learning” in digital environments, I saw at least one obvious answer while co-hosting and participating in a tweet chat about hyperlinked learning last night: anyone willing to be a collaborator/co-conspirator in the learning process owns the learning.

Rethinking_Digital_Literacy--Course_GraphicThe 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.

With my tweet-chat colleagues in the Educational Technology & Media massive open online course (#etmooc) community, the answer to both facets of the question is obvious and openly accessible. All of us involved in that particular community of learning retain (and openly share) access to the artifacts produced through our learning—e.g., through blog postings that occasionally connect to and interact with blog posts from other members of the community; through archived recordings of our interactions during  the course and those that continue to take place in Google Hangouts and any other accessible online tool we can find and explore as part of our continuing learning efforts on the topic of educational technology and media; and through tweets and the Storify learning objects we produce.

Storify_LogoMore 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.

Owning the learning at this level always seems to produce results far beyond anything we anticipate. The hyperlinked-learning tweet chat, for example, produced numerous examples of hyperlinked learning in action. There was the magnificent “Tutor/Mentor Learning Map,” with more than 2,000 hyperlinks to other resources, prepared and shared by #etmooc community member Daniel Bassill. There were exchanges about tech tools some community members had not yet tried. There were informal attempts to define hyperlinked learning, including Daniel’s suggestion that it “is like island-hopping in a huge ocean of knowledge. You can go from place to place in any direction”; Shuana Niessen’s suggestion that it’s “non linear responsive learning”; and my own observation (based on our source material from Michael Stephens) that it’s “what we did/do in #etmooc: connecting, exploring, playing, collaborating, learning experientially” and what I’m fostering among my Rethinking Digital Literacy co-conspirators.

etmoocWhat 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.

oclmooc_logoAs 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. 

N.B.: This is the fourth in a series of reflections inspired by our ALA Editions “Rethinking Digital Literacy” course.


Rethinking Digital Literacy: Collaboration, Experience, and Riding Digital Waves

July 27, 2015

There is no denying that playing and working in a variety of digital environments can sometimes feel akin to trying to drink out of a fire hose. There is also no denying that there’s another way to approach digital/online interactions: as if they produce magnificent waves well worth riding to a warm and welcoming shore—which pretty much describes the experiences I had riding rather than drowning in digital interactions last week as our ALA Editions four-week online course “Rethinking Digital Literacy” continued.

Rethinking_Digital_Literacy--Course_GraphicWhile the learners I am supporting—and have, as an extension of what I have learned elsewhere, begun referring to as my “co-conspirators” —spent the second of four weeks trying to define and determine ways to foster digital literacy among those we serve, I continued engaging in my own efforts to see where a blend of onsite and online interactions involving a wide range of friends and colleagues might take me—a tremendously satisfying exercise that culminated in a richly rewarding conversation with T is for Training colleagues at the end of the week.

Plenty of disparate elements had to come together for that particular wave to carry us all to shore, and they seemed to coalesce around a very specific digital-literacy skill: an ability to collaborate across numerous platforms and environments. The experience began early in the week as a local (San Francisco Bay Area) colleague (Clark Quinn), with whom I tend to interact more frequently online than face to face, was confirming lunch plans with me. Taking advantage of an hour-long trip via public transportation to reach Clark, I read several recent posts on his blog, where he consistently and engagingly addresses training-teaching-learning issues of interest to those of us working with adult learners in workplace learning and performance (staff training) settings. The punch line to one of his most recent posts—“…it’s not about content [in learning]. It’s about experience [in learning]. Are you designing experience?”—led to an intriguing conversation over lunch as I carried that online resource and inspiration into our face-to-face environment.

T_is_for_Training_LogoBut it didn’t stop there: I sensed there was plenty more to explore, and suspected a perfect venue drawing upon our digital literacy skill of collaborating within digital environments was back in the online sandbox I share with colleagues through Maurice Coleman’s biweekly T is for Training conversation/podcast—a program designed for those of us involved in library training-teaching-learning efforts. When Maurice and our T colleague Jill Hurst-Wahl agreed that Clark’s post and the question regarding content vs. experience would be a great topic for discussion, I notified Clark to see if he wanted to join us; he and I also continued the conversation briefly via exchanges in the weekly #lrnchat tweet chat (with an entirely different set of colleagues discussing tech trends) the night before the T is for Training was scheduled to take place.

Initially indicating he wouldn’t be available, Clark ultimately was able to join the conversation a few minutes after that episode of T began, and the results were every bit as stimulating as any of us might have hoped. A core group of the T “usual suspects” quickly welcomed Clark and interacted in ways that brought his non-library learning and development expertise to the forefront of the conversation; Clark, in turn, dove into the conversation in ways that helped him better understand how designing experiences in library training-teaching-learning efforts paralleled as well as differed from what he has seen elsewhere.

etmoocBy the end of the hour-long exchange, many things were obvious. The cross-pollination that occurs through interactions among members of various online communities—particularly the kind of online connected-learning communities with which I’m familiar—can bring benefits to everyone involved. This variation on hyperlinked learning—comprised of playing, learning, telling stories, transparency, participation, harnessing user-generated content (in this case, Clark’s blog post), and making connections, as Michael Stephens has suggested—benefits tremendously from our willingness to carry a variety of approaches into our continually evolving and ever-increasing tech tools. This combination of cross-pollination and hyperlinked learning produces notable results, small and large: T, for example, may have picked up a new usual suspect (if Clark is able to join us for additional conversations); Clark may be continuing the conversation in an upcoming Learnlet post to carry it to a larger audience; I’m certainly continuing this set of explorations further via my own blog and a tweet chat I’ll join later this week with #etmooc (Educational Technology & Media massive open online course) colleagues; and I will carry it back to the learners/co-conspirators in Rethinking Digital Literacy in the hope they can use it with their own colleagues in a number of different countries.

Ultimately, this level of collaboration, designing learning experiences, and riding rather than drowning under waves of digital interactions and resources creates exactly the sort of learning experience I pictured when I read Clark’s blog post. More importantly, it supports our efforts to hone that very important digital-literacy skill of collaboration that, at its essence, supports the way we live, play, and work positively, creatively, and enthusiastically in a hyperlinked world.

N.B.: This is the third in a series of reflections inspired by our ALA Editions “Rethinking Digital Literacy” course.


Rethinking Digital Literacy: Moving Out

July 24, 2015

Out of chaos sometimes comes more chaos—and that can be a very exhilarating and productive learning environment under the right conditions, as we’re seeing in our ALA Editions four-week online course “Rethinking Digital Literacy.”

Rethinking_Digital_Literacy--Course_GraphicThe course is literally and somewhat chaotically all over the virtual map. It has an obvious, easily-accessible  home base, which is our learning-management-system (Moodle). During Week 2, Rethinking has fostered increasing levels of digital literacy by moving out, beyond our virtual classroom walls, and expanding into Twitter; Facebook; blogs; and, as of this morning, a learner-produced video posted within and shared from Google Drive. And there’s no end in sight as to how far it can and will extend, which is fine: this connected learning, rhizomatically-growing learning experience is at least partially helping well-supported learners within a vibrant community of learning to viscerally understand that a key digital-literacy skill is an ability to navigate a variety of online resources and venues without allowing ourselves to become overwhelmed.

Our methodology, so far, appears to perfectly match and support the content, learning goals, and user experience within Rethinking. In designing and facilitating the course, I’m attempting to create an engaging, stimulating, learner-centric, results-based experience where learners (or to borrow one of my favorite terms that continues to evolve from the Educational Technology & Media MOOC—#etmooc: “co-conspirators”) are partners in the digital-literacy learning process. Where the original conspirators (those designing and facilitating the course)  in #etmooc inspired a group of co-conspirators in the form of #etmooc learners who collaborated on designing and facilitating a follow-up massive open online course (MOOC), the co-conspirators in Relearning include every learner who is joining me in shaping and learning from the course.

etmoocAnother match between methodology and content/learning goals/experience within Rethinking is the focus on co-conspirators learning how to define and foster digital literacy by identifying and further developing the digital literacy skills they bring to the course. They are offered—and some are taking advantage of—opportunities to learn about digital literacy by exploring digital tools and resources of interest to them and to those they serve. The process is still very much in its early stages, but is already producing results similar to what I saw—and was inspired by—in #etmooc. A few Rethinking learners are using blogs to document and build upon what they are learning. Others, as a result of asynchronous online group discussions within Moodle, have agreed upon a Twitter hashtag (#ReDigLit) they can use to carry their discussions and learning into the Twittersphere.

The latest expansion of our semi-controlled chaotic approach came this morning through the creative approach course participant/co-conspirator Joan Jordan took in playfully completing a warm-up exercise I offered for Week 2: she combined the assignment with an ongoing optional avenue I’ve encouraged learners to explore (try a new digital literacy tool of their own choosing each week to expand their digital-literacy toolkit). Joan decided to learn how to use the video capabilities of her smartphone, learn how to upload the video she created, and learn how to share a link to that video from an online venue (in this case, Google Drive). With that as the foundation for her approach, she responded to the actual warm-up assignment: watch a brief, charming video showing young learners displaying a variety of digital literacy skills, identify as many digital literacy skills in use as possible, and post the resulting list of skills within our Week 2 online discussion board. The result was extremely engaging: she filmed her cat, produced a video that had the cat telling us which digital literacy skills were observable in the video Joan and other course participants are viewing, and shared that video with us in place of providing a text-based inventory of the skills on display. In the best of digital-literacy approaches, she not only managed to learn what she wanted and needed to learn, but also inspired a lively conversation that is continuing to develop back at home base (Moodle).

An additional intriguing element of our collaboratively-developing methodology—very much what I would call “the #etmooc method” because that’s where I first experienced it—is the opportunity to see whether what grew out of #etmooc could develop from an online course that is not a MOOC: a sustainable community of learning that continues long after formal coursework concludes—what I have only half-jokingly referred to as a MOOChort elsewhere. As my Rethinking co-conspirators continue to define and explore digital literacy by carrying their conversations into a variety of digital settings, I suspect the seeds of a post-Rethinking community are already beginning to germinate.

N.B.: This is the second in a series of reflections inspired by our ALA Editions “Rethinking Digital Literacy” course.


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