Learning Social Media With Our Learners (Pt. 3 of 4): Office Hours in a Google+ Hangout

January 31, 2013

Having twice used a private Facebook group as the platform for virtual office hours over the past couple of weeks, participants in the latest version of the four-week online “Social Media Basics” course I developed with colleagues at ALA Editions went for broke this morning: we used a Google+ Hangout for our latest office hour.

While it was far from perfect, it proved to be a spectacular learning experience for those who wanted the opportunity to create another learning sandbox in a course that has promoted experimentation as a way of becoming comfortable with a few of the numerous social media tools available to us.

Social_Media_BasicsThe experiment—not originally built into the course, but completely in character with the approach we’ve been taking together—was inspired during our second Facebook office hour last week. We had begun discussing how different people were using Google+ Hangouts creatively, and I responded to a question by describing how Samantha Adams Becker (from the New Media Consortium) and I had used Hangouts as the vehicle for blended cross-country presentations on technology in learning. (I was onsite in the San Francisco Bay Area with American Society for Training & Development—ASTD–colleagues, and Samantha came in from her home in New Orleans via the Hangouts.) I also led the virtual office hour participants to the YouTube video of John Butterill’s Virtual Photo Walks via Google+ Hangouts. It was at that moment that one of the participants expressed an interest in conducting our next virtual office hour via a Hangout, and the request picked up momentum through the learners’ own actions.

When I saw that one of the course participants was running with the idea of connecting with a few other learners via a Hangout—an option suggested as a final course activity—I contacted her to ask whether she would like to combine that effort with the proposed office hour and actually facilitate the session herself. She immediately accepted, sent out the invitations both on Google+ and in the class forum (in Moodle), and began preparing for the session. Although I was there to support her during the brief planning stages and while the Hangout was in progress, it really was a learner-driven session with all the ups and downs we expected through that effort.

She and I worked together in advance to craft a rough outline of how the session would proceed, and agreed that part of the success would come from not overly structuring the conversation. She and others exchanged information ahead of time via Google+ and the class forum. She even set up a pre-session sandbox for anyone who wanted to play with the technology before the office hour officially began.

When we logged on at the appointed time, she and the others were fantastic in addressing challenges. The initial Hangout was a bit slow, and screens froze a couple of times, so we decided that she should log out and then come right back in to see if the connection would stabilize. Although the rest of us were able to continue in that original Hangout, she somehow found herself locked out of it, so immediately contacted me, via a separate chat, to see if the entire group could move into a new Hangout. The transition was relatively quick, and we were all in the new, much more successful Hangout, within 10 minutes of the original start time—a great learning experience for those interested in seeing how easy it could be to resolve problems within a new learning environment like a Google+ Hangout.

As was the case with our initial Facebook virtual office hour, we spent another few minutes playing around with the technical side of the event since this was meant to be a learning experience, not a professionally-produced program: helping participants unmute their microphones, establishing an understanding of how to effectively use the chat function, and even finding a way to allow one struggling participant to view the session through a live feed via YouTube. By the time we were a quarter of the way through our hour-long session, we had moved away from discussions of how to operate within a Hangout and were already discussing topics germane to the work we were doing in “Social Media Basics.”

None of us expects to win any awards for production values or content from that first experiment, but we all walked away with something far more important: the memory of an engaging online session that made everyone feel as if we had finally “met” in the course because we had that virtual face-to-face experience, and lots of ideas about how the experience could quickly be replicated in our own workspaces to the benefit of those we serve.

And if that isn’t at the heart of successful learning in our onsite-online world, then I’m not quite sure what is.

N.B.: Heartfelt thanks to the staff of the New Media Consortium for introducing me to John Butterill’s Virtual Photo Walks through the work Advisory Board members did on the 2013 Horizon Report Higher Education Edition.

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Learning Social Media With Our Learners (Pt. 1 of 4)

January 13, 2013

Teaching any “basics” course face to face or online can be one of the best ways to (willingly) be pushed into advanced exploration of a topic, as I’ve been reminded this week.

Social_Media_BasicsDiving into the latest version of the four-week online “Social Media Basics” course I developed with colleagues at ALA Editions, I’m working with a wonderful group of adults who are beginning to set up and learn how to use Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ accounts effectively. But it’s not just about sending tweets and posting updates: their entry-level work with social media tools is inspiring them to engage in advanced-level exploration about what it means to go from having a slight or non-existent presence in the world of social media to becoming adept users of those tools professionally and personally. And, as expected, the work they are doing, the questions they are asking, and the resources they are discovering and sharing with their course colleagues make me as engaged a learner as any of them are.

The two-way learning began early in the course when they began exploring some of the extras within Moodle, which is the open source platform used by ALA Editions for online delivery of its courses. The best surprise for me—at least up to this point—came when someone explored the basic tools available and found a way to include a photograph of herself in one of the postings to a course forum. Since that simple act of reaching out socially via a friendly headshot of herself provided a first-rate example of the spirit of social media use, I went back into the course tools to learn how to duplicate what she had done. By responding with a note (visible to all course participants) that included an informal snapshot of myself, I called other learners’ attention to what was possible in our course postings and was happy to see others adopting the same practice so that a bit of social cohesion was already developing even before we jumped out onto the Web to use any of the social media tools.

Even more encouraging was how quickly many of the learners began jumping back and forth from the safety of that private course forum to the much more open and public venue of Twitter as they worked through the first assignment of starting (or updating) a Twitter account. Some were able to quickly create and post first-rate Twitter profiles, start following a combination of course colleagues and other outside resources that will be of use and interest to them in their day-to-day work, and send their first tweets. A couple, uncomfortable about having their tweets seen by complete strangers, discovered and explored the use of accounts that keep tweets private and visible only to an approved group of followers.

One of the most interesting learning opportunities for all of us came from those who were struggling with that same idea about how openly social and accessible to be in a social media setting. They set up their accounts, admitted they felt uncomfortable posting content that strangers could see, and wrote about feeling equally uncomfortable reading content that sometimes is far more personal than what they want to encounter from people they haven’t met. So we brought that level of discourse back into the course forum and provided a discussion thread that allows all course participants to exchange thoughts about the benefits and disadvantages to operating so transparently within a social media context. It will be interesting to see if/when someone in the course becomes confident and comfortable enough to begin tweeting out that sort of question to explore the issue with experienced Twitter users they haven’t yet encountered.

A key element of what we’re doing together is that we’re engaging in deeply important and richly challenging exchanges online as effectively as we would if we were face to face—with the understanding that ultimately there will be no one-size-fits-all answer. We’re pushing the tools themselves into the background and using them to have the sort of discussions that foster effective collaborations via those tools. (With any luck, this posting here on Building Creative Bridges will become part of the overall conversation and another example of how we can extend discussions across a variety of platforms.) And the learners—my learning colleagues in every sense of that term—are quickly seeing that I’m happy to facilitate the discussions and bring additional useful resources to the conversations, but that I’m not going to serve as the sort of social media advocate who insists that everyone has to use Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, and the many other options available to us.

We all appear to be comfortable with the idea that we adopt a social media tool at the moment we see that tool meeting a need we haven’t filled elsewhere, and that trying to force someone to learn and use something before they’re ready is the worst and least successful way to foster effective learning—probably the most important lesson to be learned and relearned by any trainer-teacher-learner.


Social Media Feast and Fast: Disconnecting for a Day

July 20, 2012

I was feeling wired in the best and worst of all possible ways after feasting on nonstop, extremely intense face-to-face and online contact with colleagues at American Society for Training & Development (ASTD) and American Library Association (ALA) conferences recently.

The cumulative effect was wonderfully alarming—or alarmingly wonderful, depending on your own attitudes toward social media tools. The positive result was that engaging with colleagues face to face and via Twitter backchannels created a remarkably rewarding level of engagement. The worrisome part was that the nonstop engagement created a social media/digital equivalent of delirium tremens in the days immediately following each conference.

Some of the contradictory responses should not, in retrospect, have been difficult to anticipate. I did, after all, move without any sort of conscious transition into dawn-to-dark social media immersion from a routine habit of spending an hour or less each day engaged with others through Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, and Facebook; the exception to my usual habits generally comes in the form of a weekly or biweekly engagement in a formal online discussion session, e.g., a tweet chat, or through the act of live-tweeting an event for colleagues who cannot be present.

The conference interactions turned those patterns completely on their virtual heads. Conference days generally began with a quick skim, on the screen of my laptop, of the conference backchannel feeds via TweetDeck; this helped me spot last-minute announcements regarding events I didn’t want to miss, or summaries of presentations and discussions I wasn’t able to attend. Then I would skim a (print) copy of a newspaper before switching over to a mobile device (in this case, a Samsung Galaxy tablet)  to keep up with the various feeds throughout the day. I would turn back to my laptop when I was live-tweeting events I was attending or writing blog postings late each evening.

As I’ve written elsewhere, the level of engagement was spectacular; the combined online and face-to-face contacts produced connections I otherwise would have never made. But the predictable crash was quick to come in the days immediately following each conference. I found myself compulsively continuing to follow the backchannel post-conference feeds via my tablet. Craving and missing the obvious social media buzz that comes from that level of stimulation. And feeling as if the transition from conference routines back to normal day-to-day routines was not happening as naturally as it had in the past.

When I found myself feeling that way after returning from the second conference, I began thinking about University of San Francisco associate professor of media studies and environmental studies David Silver’s recent summary of a digital fast experiment. Silver’s engaging presentation at the San Francisco Public Library under the auspices of BayNet (the Bay Area Library & Information Network) in May 2012 made many of us think about our own online practices as he described how he had encouraged a group of 80 digital natives to go without any electronic or digital media as long as they could—in essence, to “remain logged off until it becomes dangerous, impossible, or unbearable.”

The student who maintained the fast for the shortest period of time gave up after only a few hours. The person who lasted longest went all of three and a half days. Some of the participants’ observations were funny—one wanted to know how to take a bus without an iPhone and then what to do while on the bus with no digital distractions. Another concluded that it was impossible to work out at a gym without music. A third participant reported staring at a pizza for lack of anything else to do over a meal. Some participants’ observations were poignant—their friends who continued texting acted as if they had stepped out of the room by not being equally engaged in online conversations, and one reported that it was “weird to be stuck in my mind…I didn’t like it.”

Armed with memories of those observations and recognizing that I needed my own digital fast, I set aside a Saturday recently when no one was expecting me to work. I could actually feel my body and my thoughts relaxing as I opened the pages of a book that morning and slowly relished the joy of slowly absorbing thoughts from printed sources rather than feeling as if I had to race from tweet to tweet. Brunch with my wife was a relaxing and invigorating combination of conversation and time spent skimming that day’s edition of The New York Times—in its printed format. A walk through parts of San Francisco that afternoon gave us time to talk as well as simply take things in, and dinner in the relative silence of our home—no television, CD player, or radio providing distractions—led to a quiet evening without interruptions.

Beginning the fast with the intention of letting it run from midnight to midnight, I actually was in no rush to check for messages the following (Sunday) morning, so the fast actually continued well into the afternoon. By the time I wandered back to briefly check for phone messages—nothing pressing there—and online contacts, I realized I had accomplished what I set out to do. Set the virtual world aside for an all-too brief retreat. Slowed myself down significantly. And managed to break the compulsive need to monitor those post-conference backchannels and other online enticements. So I’m back to normal patterns of online interactions. And apparently none the worse for wear.


Antisocial Networking: Dreading Social Media

May 15, 2012

Facebook helps three out of four libraries recently surveyed announce upcoming programs and new acquisitions, Research and Markets’ newly released report focusing on 62 public, academic, special, and government libraries suggests. And more than half of the libraries surveyed maintain active Twitter accounts. Which still leaves a lot of libraries—and library staff members–not yet seeing the need to use social media tools to meet library users where they are meeting.

If you’re among the several billion people who haven’t yet felt the need to start a Facebook or other social media account, you don’t need to let others push you into the social media pool; you’ll dive into those waters when you’re ready—and not a moment sooner. And if the very thought of using Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, Twitter, or other social media services fills you with dread, please understand that you’re not alone. We’ve all been there. And some of us have overcome the dread and discovered that there are ways to use these services with the help of trusted colleagues. The moment of transition arrives when we realize we can dive into social media without it completing drowning us.

We’re constantly bombarded with admonitions and expressions of disbelief if we tell someone immersed in social media that we just don’t feel the need to join them in those venues. It’s as if, by refusing to join them on Facebook and those other sites, we have placed ourselves into an aberrational class of anti-social networking malcontents who somehow have decided to gleefully rip holes in the fabric of the social media universe. Yet nothing could be further from the truth. For some, it just takes more time to reach the moment of need—that moment when we see more value in being part of the online social networking universe than we see in remaining aloof from what initially appears to be a frivolous, unproductive use of our time.

What the social media mavens often ignore is that many people simply haven’t recognized how involvement in social media networks can actually strengthen rather than detract from the sense that we are part of vibrant, creative, and inspiring social communities that increasingly combine, in a seamless way, our onsite and online professional and personal activities. They haven’t seen the value of joining thoughtfully inspiring online conversations they don’t even know are taking place.

Those of us who gone from dread to enthusiasm now barely notice the tools; we focus on a newfound and effective method of communication and the cultivation of resources that enrich every facet of our lives. We realize that whether we are on Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, or Twitter is far less important than how we incorporate those tools into our lives—and how we work to keep them in the role of tools rather than turning them into driving forces that keep us from accomplishing other, more important things. We quickly learn to sift through the online ephemera and go for the gold—those updates providing links to a valuable and much-appreciated resource that we would not have found by ourselves. And when that happens, we’re in the game. Completely. With full enjoyment. And with gratitude that we didn’t have to waste time seeking out that resource on our own.

All of which provides a great reminder to those of us who have made the personal and professional journey from dread and anti-social networking to developing a great appreciation for how those tools have drawn us into valuable and highly valued communities. We are not going to entice others into that world by telling them they have to join. Furthermore, there’s no reason that we should do so. What we should be doing is using these tools ourselves. Letting others know what has worked for us (and, most importantly, why). And being there to help others take the baby steps they need to take to join us in the shallow or the deep end of the social media pool.

N.B.: Paul is teaching the ALA Editions four-week online “Social Media Basics: Engaging Your Library Users” course from May 21 – June 17, 2012 (http://www.alastore.ala.org/detail.aspx?ID=3812) for those who literally want to start at the beginning by opening Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, and Twitter accounts, and then seeing how those accounts can serve their professional and personal needs.

An edited version of this article was written for the ALA Editions blog.


Rethinking Learning and Learning Spaces (Pt. 4 of 4): Rethinking With the Authors We Are Reading

March 23, 2012

Let’s take a quantum leap in rethinking what a learning space is. Without abandoning anything that is already effectively in place, let’s think beyond the physical classroom. Past the online learning spaces we inhabit now via platforms including WebEx, Skype, and many others. Let’s think about a world where learning spaces can be almost anything that facilitates learning. And then laugh when we realize how full circle we have come.

At least one idea comes sharply into focus as we move through the rethinking process via books by John Medina, Seth Godin, Cathy Davidson, and others, including Bruce Wexler: the “places” where we learn are in a dynamic state of change, and they all benefit from being stimulating rather than static. When we look at what Michael Wesch is doing at Kansas State University and documenting on his Digital Ethnography site, we see engaged and effective learning facilitated by an engaged teacher-trainer-learner. When we turn to the YouMedia project at the Chicago Public Library, we see a learning organization blending online-onsite learning in incredibly innovative ways. When we see how colleagues are using LinkedIn discussion groups, live online conversations linked together via Twitter hashtags like #ASTDChapters or #lrnchat or #libchat, or through Google+ hangouts, we see our idea of learning spaces expand even further since each of them creates a sort of space where learning can and does occur.

When we consider how effectively wikis are being used to draw teacher-trainer-learners together asynchronously to actually produce learning objects like the annual New Media Consortium Horizon Report, we can see those wikis as learning spaces. When we see how individual blog postings on topics ranging from various learning styles to learning in libraries include extensive links and references and serve as self-contained online asynchronous lessons, we have further expanded our horizons. When we use smartphones and tablets as conduits to sites such as Smarthistory while we are standing in front of a work of art in a museum, we viscerally understand that the learning space is a blend of the museum gallery and the website and the device since they combine to provide a more comprehensive learning opportunity than would be possible without that combination. And it’s just one small additional step to move ourselves to the concept of blended learning spaces along the lines of the onsite-online social learning centers a few of us are promoting, or to see the newly created TED-Ed site as a dynamically innovative learning space.

But there’s still one obvious oversight, and it comes to our attention as we rethink what knowledge is through books like David Weinberger’s Too Big to Know, which examines our move from print-based knowledge to online knowledge. Or Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows, which suggests that using the Internet is rewiring our brains in ways that make it difficult for us to read book-length works. Or William Crossman’s VIVO [Voice In/Voice Out]: The Coming Age of Talking Computers, which is predicated on the author’s belief that text and written language will be obsolete by 2050. The oversight for many of us may be in not seeing that books themselves (in print as well as online) remain a form of learning space—a place where we encounter other trainer-teacher-learners, learn from them, react to the ideas being proffered, and even, at a certain level, engage with them through our reactions to their work and through the conversations they inspire. Which makes it tremendously ironic, as I have repeatedly noted, that these wonderful thinker-writers still are drawn to express themselves most eloquently within the very containers—the books—they think are being replaced by other options.

If we were to travel down a similar path of overlooking what so clearly remains before us, we, too, might look at all that is developing and lose sight of a valuable learning space: the physical learning spaces that have served us in the past and will continue to serve us well if we adapt them and expand them—and ourselves—to reflect and respond to our changing world as well as to our learning needs. And our desires.


Remembering Terrence Wing

December 4, 2011

The unexpected passing of ASTD (the American Society for Training & Development) colleague Terrence Wing—President-Elect of the ASTD Los Angeles Chapter—has left another void in the ASTD family. (And make no mistake about it: being actively involved in ASTD at the local, regional, and/or national level does make all of us members of an unbelievably wonderful family that shares the joy of our successes as well as the profound levels of mourning that accompany the loss of any member of that family.)

To understand what it means to many of us that Terrence succumbed to a heart attack last week, you just have to hear a little about all that he was doing or about to do. He was on ASTD’s TechKnowledge12 Program Advisory Committee (PAC), which substantially shapes the face of this influential learning conference. He was in touch with the editor of the eLearning Guild’s Learning Solutions Magazine to discuss the content of his next column. He was continuing to write engagingly, concisely, and inspirationally for the Liquid Learn blog at the cutting-edge learning company he founded and helped to run (far too infrequently Terrence, far too infrequently; I’d give a lot of have more of your thoughts archived online at this point). He was a month away from beginning his year-long term as president of the ASTD Los Angeles Chapter. He was actively exploring Google+ with many of us and providing glimpses of those wonderful ephemeral moments of life that so often pass unnoticed.

And, knowing how Terrence operated, I suspect he was probably in the middle of planning or bringing dozens of other activities to fruition in ways that would have made a positive difference in the face of workplace learning and performance across the country and in other parts of the world.

One of the most stunningly positive aspects of Terrence’s presence is how quickly he became a part of so many lives—including mine. After mentioning a wonderful article Terrence had written about Twitter as a learning tool, I was delighted to see a comment he posted March 1, 2011, in response to the article I wrote about Skype as a learning tool in the same publication. A few email exchanges quickly made us aware of our ASTD connections as well as our overlapping circles of colleagues via LinkedIn and Twitter, and I was gratified that he participated, as an online audience member, in a session (“Blend Me”) a few of us did for the Sacramento ASTD Chapter in May. (He joined us via Twitter during a segment dealing with Twitter in workplace learning and performance.)

When I heard, from colleagues, that he was at ASTD’s International Conference & Exposition in Orlando in May, I mentioned how much I would love to extend our online connections to a face-to-face chat. Terrence graciously went out of his way to stop by an informal dinner several of us were having, and he extended an invitation to join him later that evening for a chance to talk at greater length, over drinks, about what we were all doing (which, in retrospect, I’m even more glad that I accepted even though it led to a very late night after an exhausting day of commitments). Through his presence, he stimulated plenty of wonderful conversation. Through his absence, he evokes memories of those exchanges that make me realize even more poignantly what we have suddenly lost—as documented by the comments being posted on an ASTD Los Angeles Chapter site.

Many of us know a lot of people; Terrence was one of those rare gems who knew how to bring people together in a way that changes lives. I suspect the greatest tribute we can pay him is to try to be the sort of person he appeared to be. Creative. Witty. Curious. A listener. A catalyst. And a cherished colleague whose voice will be impossible to replace.


Finding Our Place in the World, Part 1: The Strength of Association(s)

November 4, 2011

Traveling extensively, colleagues have suggested, can be a very lonely experience. But I don’t see that at all. In an onsite-online world that offers far more connective tools than any of us will ever be able to adequately explore, we’re never very far from what our varied associations can offer.

While earning an online Master of Library and Information Science degree through the first-rate program offered by the University of North Texas a few years ago and traveling extensively, I thrived on connections with my wonderfully supportive community of learners; all I had to do was log onto our course discussion boards if I wanted to keep up with the latest exchanges of ideas. When I’m on the road now and missing the stimulation of conversation with colleagues who are spread all over the country, I simply make a phone call, send an email, or catch up to those who are online via online chat functions, Skype, Twitter, live (or archived) online discussion sessions, and, as of a few days ago, via Google+.

And as an extended writing-training-consulting project kept me far from home over the past few months, I gained newfound appreciation for what my association with colleagues in the American Society for Training & Development (ASTD) means in terms of being part of a tightly knit professional family.

Shortly after arriving onsite in Florida’s Fort Lauderdale/West Palm Beach area from San Francisco in early August, I took the two steps that immediately helped me remain connected with my local and extended community. I obtained my West Palm Beach Public Library card so I could start reading and learning about the local community I was briefly joining, and I asked Florida-based ASTD colleague Jennifer Tomarchio whether there was an active ASTD community there. Jennifer’s response was an invitation to the ASTD South Florida chapter’s upcoming Friday evening social event, and that’s where the fun and extended connections blossomed.

The initial greeting from ASTD members whom I was meeting for the first time was warm and welcoming; I knew I was among peers. But the real value of association in this case became obvious when I looked up and unexpectedly saw two familiar faces: Steve Feinstein and Steve Parkins, whom I had met at national conferences without realizing they were based in South Florida and are currently president and president-elect of the chapter. And it just kept getting better: at the next chapter meeting, I unexpectedly found myself face-to-face with Michael Sabbag, another colleague I absolutely adore from the national association and who, I learned that evening, remains quite active in the South Florida chapter. And when several of us were at ASTD’s Chapter Leaders Conference last month in Arlington (VA) and I was missing my ASTD Mount Diablo colleagues who couldn’t attend the conference this year, my newly established South Florida ASTD family agreed to adopt me (and we tormented the Mount Diablo branch of the family by tweeting the news and a photograph back to them).

I often hear comments about how acquaintances and colleagues can’t afford the cost of joining an association that operates at the level of an ASTD. And although I do, at a visceral level, understand how tightly squeezed the economy has left many of us, I have to agree with my ASTD colleague Ken Steiger, whose response to the comments is “I don’t see how I can afford to not join ASTD.” Whether we pay for our associations, seek them through different means, or, in the best of all worlds, seek them everywhere we can, there’s no denying that if we want to overcome the personal and professional isolation from which so many suffer, we need to take that first step of seeking association. And then becoming active contributors and collaborators within the communities we have joined.

Next: Place in an Onsite-Online World


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