Collaboration in Learning: Co-conspirators in Exploring Technology, Lifelong Learning, Libraries, and Hubris

December 6, 2019

There is no front of the room in the four-week online Tech Trends course David Lee King and I are currently facilitating for ALA eLearning (November 4 – December 8, 2019); our asynchronous virtual meeting space is designed to make everyone an equally-empowered co-conspirator in the learning process. You won’t find instructors lecturing to learners who are surreptitiously checking their email and social media accounts; all of us are there, by choice, to learn (experientially) from each other rather than focusing solely on what the “instructors” bring to the online learning space and its bulletin boards for course discussions. And although the “Roadmap for Staff Success With New Technology” course (focused on that rich, intriguing intersection of technology, lifelong learning, and libraries) obviously has technology as a focal point, technology always takes a back seat to the people who are learning together and—more importantly—to the people who will benefit from the learning opportunities all of us create as a result of having explored technology, lifelong learning, and libraries together during the four-week run of the course.

Pulling the class together has, in itself, been a wonderfully productive, engaging, and rewarding learning process for David and for me—a process we shared quite opening with our co-conspirators, aka the learners who registered for the course. When we focused on a week-long exploration of how collaboration tools are becoming increasingly sophisticated and opening new collaborative opportunities for the learners we all serve, for example, David and I were quite open with the learners in discussing the problems we encountered with one of the collaboration tools we were using as a way of working on the course together even though I am in San Francisco and David is in Topeka. The challenges themselves became part of the learning experience for us as well as for others in the course, and the results were that we all walked away with additional resources (and ideas for resolving problems in online collaborative workspaces) in our learning toolkits as we continue designing and facilitating learning opportunities for those we all serve through libraries and other learning organizations.

When we turned to a weeklong exploration of how Artificial Intelligence (AI) tools and developments are increasingly offering us resources that might be incorporated into engaging, transformative learning opportunities, we started with a focus on how AI is affecting our target audience: people at work. We dove into examples of what our colleagues were—and are—saying about how AI is “transforming the nature of work, learning, and learning to work.” We looked at specific examples of how AI is working its way into libraries and learning. And one of our course co-conspirators, inspired by what she was learning, mentioned (on the course bulletin board) how “excited” she was by the possibility of incorporating Google Translate into the library’s efforts to better serve members of its bilingual community.  

And when we moved into an exploration of XR (Extended Reality, which includes Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality, and Mixed Reality) for the final week of the course—in progress as David and I write two interconnected sets of reflections regarding the impact of learning with learners interested in technology, libraries, and lifelong learning (you’ll find David’s part of the conversation on his blog—we again very much focused on the human side of the topic, with an eye toward encouraging our co-conspirators to outline steps they will take to incorporate their learning experiences into the learning opportunities they design and facilitate for their colleagues and other learners.

One lesson (re-)learned from our experiences with the course and the learners: it takes a combination of hubris and courage to invite colleagues to a cutting-edge exploration of rapidly-evolving technology. But that’s a challenge we were quite willing to take and discuss with our co-conspirators because the changes—and our ability to address them—were and are an integral part of any exploration of new tech. There were at least a few times when the design and development of the course was almost derailed by new developments—as was the case when we were preparing a Week 4 section on Google Daydream, only to discover that Google was formally withdrawing the product from the market just as we were writing about Daydream as a tech tool worth exploring. We did the only thing we knew how to do: we turned the situation into a case study of how quickly tech changes and how preparing for the unexpected—the Black Swans in our lives—is part of the process of learning how to explore, work with, and, when necessary, walk away from technology that seems capable of helping us meet unmet needs in our lifelong learning landscapes.

Another lesson well worth remembering is that creating and facilitating highly-interactive online learning experiences benefits tremendously from the inclusion of multiple voices made possible through links to a variety of resources (e.g., blog posts from colleagues, short videos from others more fully immersed in some of the technology under discussion than we are, and even links to PowerPoint decks that provide perspectives different than what any of us might bring to the discussions and explorations). A first-rate piece of video journalism gave all of us the backstory to Google’s withdrawal of Daydream. Free online access (via Amazon) to a chapter of Kenneth Varnum’s Beyond Reality: Augmented, Virtual, and Mixed Reality in the Library, which includes essays from several librarians who are already effectively incorporating XR into their workplaces, brought another useful perspective to what we are doing together. And we even included California State Librarian Greg Lucas virtually in the course via a brief, engaging video featuring his comments on XR in California libraries.

The bottom line for us and those we serve is that designing and facilitating an online course about cutting-edge technology offers opportunities to foster learning while engaged in learning. And the ultimate winners are those of us engaged in the course, as well as those we will better serve through the opportunities we provide as a result of the time we spend together in our virtual and face-to-faced learning spaces.

N.B.: This is one of two sets of reflections on “Roadmap for Staff Success With New Technology”; David’s set is available on his blog. Paul and David are available to work with anyone interested in onsite and/or online highly-interactive explorations of how to research and incorporate tech trends into training-teaching-learning. For more information, contact Paul at paul@paulsignorelli.com or David at davidleeking@gmail.com.


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