From eLearning to Learning (Pt. 5 of 5): A Case Study in Blended Learning

May 19, 2016

The learning event has ended; the learning process continues. And, when all is said and done, one of the many important ways by which any of us can and will measure the success or failure emanating from Mount Prospect Public Library’s 2016 Staff Inservice Day “From eLearning to Learning” (the day-long exploration of how staff at the Library can better define and incorporate e-learning into its work) will be through the transformations it actually does or does not manage to produce for those involved and for those they/we serve.

Mount_Prospect_Discovery_Zone--2016-05-12As mentioned in earlier sections of this case study of how a day-long exploration of e-learning can lead to more productive, effective, and creative use of e-learning within an overall learning landscape, we already know positive, potentially far-reaching transformations were occurring. Co-conspirators (the onsite participants in this training-teaching-learning-doing opportunity) clearly expanded their definitions and understanding of the state of contemporary e-learning and the possibilities it provides in workplace settings. Some of them posted their first tweets as part of the process of gaining a richer, more nuanced vision of how Twitter and other social media tools can be engagingly integrated into onsite as well as online learning opportunities to the benefit of everyone involved. Many of them contributed ideas face-to-face and online to expand the use of e-learning among staff members and among library users near and far. And some of them used Twitter to talk about what they hope and intend to do as a result of what they experienced.

As a co-learner as well as planning team member and presenter/facilitator in “From eLearning to Learning,” I know even I left feeling unexpectedly and significantly transformed by my involvement. I’m sure there is a wonderfully academic term to describe what I felt as the day came to an end and during the hours of reflection and conversation I’ve had with colleagues since leaving Mount Prospect, but I keep coming back to something far more basic and visceral: it blew my emotional pipes out! I was stunned. Elated. Inspired. And, at times, close to tears. Because everything was so…much…more…wonderfully and overwhelming intense and inspiring than even I expected it to be; I already carry a deep sense of gratitude to the staff members who invited me into the process and to those magnificent staff members who pushed the learning envelope so far during our onsite and online time together that day.

Haymes--Idea_SpacesAmong the continued-learning opportunities I already have pursued is the opportunity to expand upon and adapt in my own way a learning approach I saw Tom Haymes, a fabulous New Media Consortium (NMC) colleague, use during his own “Idea Spaces” presentation at an NMC conference a couple of years ago. His onsite Idea Spaces presentation and discussion gave all of us plenty of room to learn from him in the moment, to learn from each other in the same moment, to reflect upon what we were hearing and learning, and to see the “event” as part of a process.

More significantly, Tom created a beautifully expansive learning opportunity that helped me see how onsite and online learning could seamlessly be interwoven. His slide deck was posted and available on an Idea Spaces website (which, as I glance back at it in writing this part of the “From eLearning to Learning” case study, has expanded tremendously and magnificently since I last visited it.) The site itself was and remains a stand-alone expansion of what he was sharing with us; it was and is, at the same time, an integral part of the onsite experience. It includes a variety of resources for those of us interested in pursuing the topic in our own way. On our own time. Whenever we want to continue the training-teaching-learning-doing process. And, with that in mind, it occurred to me that what all of us designed for the onsite “From eLearning to Learning” experience easily translates into a modified version of what Tom modeled through his use of WordPress as a platform for the onsite version.

Tom (and many others) have used WordPress as a virtual course meeting place. I’ve used my own website “Previous Presentations” page as a central virtual meeting place for ongoing use and exploration of the material we all developed through the planning process and our onsite participation, and have added links to  the content to the “Presentations/Courses” page of this WordPress Building Creative Bridges blog, which serves as a secondary website/learning resource to expand the reach of what I do and document. I’ve also made minor modification to the slide deck I posted so there are references to the other current components of the suite (including the Storify document). The Storify document ends with a note providing a link to the PowerPoint deck with extensive speaker notes. This five-part case study on my blog is becoming an integral part of the suite by including links to other components at the bottom of each of these articles, and there are references to it sprinkled among the other resources and promoted via my LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook accounts. And I’m looking at fine-tuning and providing access to additional resources that came out of the planning and day-of-the-event interactions so anyone interested will have a road map they can follow in the same way that Tom’s Idea Spaces continues to serve as a virtual road map and very real, tremendous source of inspiration nearly two years after I participated in the onsite version.

Mt_Prospect_LogoSo, there we have it: the current state of e-learning and a view toward pulling it into the overall world of learning rather than being something all-too-often mistakenly seen as inferior to other types of learning. We learn onsite while incorporating online learning opportunities that produce potentially long-lasting, useful resources openly shared with anyone who might benefit from them. We learn online synchronously and/or asynchronously so that learning occurs at our moment of need, when we are ready and primed for it, rather than being where we were a decade or two ago—largely dependent on the availability of teachers and trainers who stood in the front of a room and lectured at us. In the contemporary learning environment onsite and online, there often is no front of the room. The room is the entire world, the learners are fabulous, often self-motivated, inquisitive and collaborative co-conspirators in the learning process, and in the best of situations we are able synchronously or asynchronously to enter the room and work with our co-conspirators to produce positive effects that ripple out into our extended community of work, service, and play.

I look back at the annotated, lightly-edited Twitter transcript on Storify and smile as I reread a few of my favorites among the many wonderful tweets that came out of our time together:

  • “Whenever @paulsignorelli says ‘co-conspirator’ can’t help but thnk of mvie ‘The Conspirator’ abt plot to assassinate Lincoln #mpplsid16”
  • “Transformation today; we now recognize #elearning spaces; they’re everwhere! #mpplsid16”
  • “So important to stay excited about elearning long after today #mpplside16”
  • “What can we do to commit to #elearning after today? Make the time for the things we want to learn about! #mpplsid16”
  • “I just got elearned #firsttweet #mpplsid16”

And as I reread and reflect upon the content and the entire experience–and feel in a very real sense that the moment has not yet ended—I respond synchronously and asynchronously, both humbly and with a tremendous sense of elation and in the spirit of moving from elearning to learning, to that learner who just “got elearned”: “I learned.”

NB: This is the fifth of five articles documenting the process of helping to plan and facilitate a day-long exploration of how to effectively incorporate e-learning into our learning process. Companion components to “From eLearning to Learning” currently include a PowerPoint slide deck with extensive speaker notes, a facilitator’s guide, a lightly edited and annotated Storify document capturing that part of the conversation that occurred via Twitter, and online shared documents that contain content added by the learners during throughout the day of the main event. Some are shared here through those live links with the express approval of Mount Prospect Public Library training staff. For help in developing and facilitating a similar event tailored to your organization, please contact Paul at paul@paulsignorelli.com.

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NMC Horizon Report 2015 (Pt. 2 of 6): Learning Spaces, Blended  Learning, & Other Key Trends  

February 19, 2015

If you’re noticing increasing amounts of attention given to collaboration, blended learning, and efforts to redesign learning spaces in training-teaching-learning, you’re not alone. And if you are new to or remain curious about these topics, you’ll find plenty to stimulate your interest in the “Key Trends” section of the newly-released New Media Consortium (NMC) Horizon Report > 2015 Higher Education Edition.

Horizon_Report--2015_CoverHorizon Project reports, for more than a decade, have been guiding us through what is changing and what remains consistent in our learning landscape; the flagship Higher Education Edition, which currently is accompanied by K-12, Library and Museum editions, consistently helps us identify and become familiar with key trends that are “accelerating technology adoption in higher education”—and, I continue to maintain, in many other parts of our overall lifelong-learning landscape.

Reading through the latest Key Trends section confirms, among other ideas, that collaboration is a common thread weaving the trends into a cohesive tapestry of ed-tech developments. We see, through the report, that key trends (in addition to an increasing use of blended learning and significant amounts of attention given to redesigning learning spaces) include advancing cultures of change and innovation; increasing cross-institution collaboration; a growing focus on measuring learning; and the proliferation of open educational resources—OERs. And the 2015 Higher Education Edition includes plenty of examples to help us see how we can adapt, in our own learning environments, what our more adventurous colleagues are already doing.

Looking first at the long-term trends—those “driving ed tech adoption in higher education for five or more years”—we encounter examples of how learning organizations are advancing cultures of change and innovation and increasingly fostering cross-institution collaboration. We are, according to the Horizon Project team (New Media Consortium staff, along with the volunteers who serve on the report’s panel of experts), seeing an increasing awareness among “higher education thought leaders” that agile startup models and the lean startup movement  are stimulating positive change and “promoting a culture of innovation” in learning (p. 8). “It has become the responsibility of universities to foster environments that accelerate learning and creativity,” report co-authors Samantha Adams Becker, Alex Freeman, and Victoria Estrada bluntly tell us—an assertion that I consistently apply to workplace learning and performance (staff training) programs as well. Among the examples provided are the University of Florida’s Innovation Academy, where students work innovatively in a variety of dynamic learning spaces to “learn more about creativity, entrepreneurship, ethics, and leadership,” and the University of Colorado, Denver’s ten-week Online Skills Mastery training program “designed to prepare you for teaching with digital tools, with a focus on great digital pedagogy” and culminating with a project in which participants actually produce a learning module—experiential learning at its best. (Modules are available online for those of us interested in further exploring what the program offers.) And for one of the many examples of how learning organizations are engaging in productive collaborations, we can follow the report link to “7 Ways Higher Ed Institutions Are Increasingly Joining Forces” from EducationDive.com—yet another resource well worth pursuing.

As we move into the mid-term trends—those “driving ed tech adoption in higher education for three to five years”—we turn our attention to the growing focus on measuring learning (think learning analytics) and the proliferation of open educational resources. With the growing focus on measuring learning, we are reminded, “The goal is to build better pedagogies, empower students to take an active part in their learning, target at-risk student populations, and assess factors affecting completion and student success” (p. 12); among the numerous first-rate resources cited in the 2015 Higher Education Edition are the “Code of Practice for Learning Analytics” prepared by Niall Sclater for Jisc, and records from the Asilomar Conference (here in California) that was designed to “inform the ethical use of data and technology in learning research” through development of six principals (“respect for the rights of learners, beneficence, justice, openness, the humanity of learning, and continuous consideration”). Turning to the trend toward increasing use of open educational resources, we see how they represent “a broad variety of digital content, including full courses, course materials, modules, textbooks, videos, tests, software, and any other means of conveying knowledge” (p. 14). Among the open textbook projects receiving attention here are Rice University’s OpenStax College and College Open Textbooks; massive open online courses (MOOCs) and the North-West OER Network also receive much-justified attention for their ongoing collaborative and open approaches to learning.

Haymes--Idea_SpacesThe Key Trends section of the report concludes with the two intriguing and fruitful short-term trends—those “driving ed tech adoption in higher education [and elsewhere] for the next one to two years”: increasing use of blended learning and redesigning learning spaces. “[B]lended learning—the combination of online and face-to-face instruction—is a model currently being explored by many higher educational institutions” (p. 17) and some of us who work in other learning environments, as we’re reminded through a link to a blended-learning case study (written by Carrie Schulz, Jessica Vargas, and Anna Lohaus) from Rollins University. And changes in pedagogical approaches themselves are driving the need to re-examine and redesign our learning spaces: “A student-centered approach to education has taken root, prompting many higher education professionals to rethink how learning spaces should be configured,” the report co-authors confirm (p. 18). If, for example, we are interested in having the learner at the center of the learning process, we’re going to have to rework the numerous lecture halls that continue to place the focus on learning facilitators. The FLEXspace interactive OER database and the Learning Spaces Collaboratory are among the wonderful resources cited for those of us interested in diving much more deeply into the world of learning-space redesign, and Tom Haymes’ Idea Spaces presentation provides additional food for thought while also serving as an example of how we can create online content in a way that creates its own type of learning space—the website itself.

NB: This is part of a series of articles exploring the latest Horizon Report. Next: Key Challenges


NMC 2014 Summer Conference: Not In My Wildest Dreams!

June 20, 2014

The words “ambassadors” and “learning spaces” might not be at the forefront of your mind if you’re attending an educational-technology conference, but they certainly were for me while I was in Portland, Oregon for the New Media Consortium (NMC) 2014 Summer [ed-tech] Conference earlier this week.
NMC Summer Conference - PortlandIt was, in fact, at the intersection of ambassadors and learning spaces that I again saw what most attracts me to ed-tech and all other aspects of training-teaching-learning: the learners themselves. And what I saw needs to be seen by every one of us involved in and passionate about learning.

The ambassador connection initially came within hours of my arrival onsite early in the week through my conference roommate, Jonathan Nalder—an Australian educator/ed-tech enthusiast who partially funded his trip to the conference by running an online fundraising campaign via Kickstarter. Nalder was among the more than 20 ed-tech aficionados worldwide chosen to serve in the first cohort of NMC ambassadors for their willingness to play the role of “knowledgeable members of NMC Horizon Project K-12 Advisory Boards in the discussions that lead to future K-12 editions of the NMC Horizon Report series, be the experts in their field in the NMC Commons, and gain recognition among an international body of colleagues as innovative educators,” as we are reminded on the NMC website. (The ambassadors earned their positions by submitting video applications that describe the innovations taking place at their schools and also give us a wonderful overview of what was happening in the world of K-12 ed-tech at the time those videos were submitted.) So it was an unexpected pleasure to join him and several other ambassadors for dinner—which is when the learning-spaces connections began.

Hearing NMC Ambassador Lisa Gustinelli chat, during dinner, about a library that had become an “innovation center” she recently joined in a private high school in Florida teed up the topic nicely because it connected transformations I have been following: learning spaces that feature equipment and furniture that can easily be moved to accommodate the needs of learners and learning facilitators; collaborative environments; and the continuing evolution of libraries in ways that more overtly acknowledge and promote their long-standing role as learning centers. My own extremely rewarding onsite conference explorations of learning spaces continued during the week through a series of experiences including attendance at Houston Community College Northwest Director of Technology and Instructional Computing Tom Haymes’ session on idea spaces, and Al Biles’ engaging session providing an overview of innovations at the Rochester Institute of Technology Center for Media, Arts, Games, Interaction and Creativity (MAGIC)—which is beautifully described on the MAGIC website.

The ambassador-and-learning-spaces connection came full circle early in the afternoon of the final day of the conference when I joined colleagues in exploring the conference “Idea Lab”—a stimulating ed-tech version of poster sessions designed to serve as “a dynamic place where creativity flows,” and where displays took various shapes including simple yet elegantly-designed stand-alone posters and informal presentations that incorporated content viewable on tablets.

 

Cheryl Steighner with students

Cheryl Steighner with students

Walking over to the “Social Media: Connecting Young Learners to the World” session organized by NMC Ambassador Cheryl Steighner, I found what I hadn’t even known I was seeking: learners at the center of an Idea Lab session about the training-teaching-learning process. And not just any learners: Steighner’s co-presenters (lovingly referred to as her “Steighnerds”—were an amazing group of fourth- and fifth-grade students who were the youngest presenters ever to be included in an NMC Summer Conference, conference organizers confirmed. With Steighner standing nearby and intentionally taking a back seat to her learners, the students described how they had studied an interwoven variety of subjects by using Skype, Twitter, and other social media tools. Via Skype, for example, they interviewed students from other parts of the United States; their initial challenge, shaped through gamification techniques and involving a series of yes-no questions, was to determine where their Skype colleagues were physically located. Once they determined the geographical setting inhabited by their fellow students, they located and marked those places on a map that is usually kept in their classroom and was brought onsite to the NMC conference to be incorporated into their Idea Lab display. But the learning didn’t stop at that elementary level during the Skype sessions; the students learned about their Skype-partners’ cities and states through conversations during those online sessions. The students also honed their English reading and writing skills by composing grammatically correct sentences that became tweets, and by using iPads to compose writing assignments on a variety of topics including the civil rights movement in America.

Skyping to learning geograpny...and more

Skyping to learn geography…and more

Most striking about this blended learning/blended presentation approach is that it made me think far more broadly about the interwoven nature of our learning spaces than I ever had before. The Idea Lab space was a temporary learning space in which adults were learning about Steighner’s approach to teaching as well as about her learners’ sophisticated and enthusiastic approach to learning. The students’ learning space is an intriguingly blended onsite-online classroom that reaches as far as Steighner, Skype, Twitter, and NMC Summer Conference attendance will take them. The conference itself was a dynamically-inspiring learning space comprised of numerous elements: the smaller overlapping learning spaces ranging from the Idea Lab displays, workshops on massive open online courses (MOOCS) and other topics, and session break-out rooms to the larger ballroom settings where plenary sessions were held—and then beyond the hotel where the conference took place, extending into the restaurant where the ambassadors and I talked about innovation spaces and so much more Monday night, then extending even further into another restaurant the following evening with a slightly expanded group that included NMC staff, a workshop facilitator, and one of the conference plenary speakers.

NMC CEO Larry Johnson chats with one of the youngest conference presenters

NMC CEO Larry Johnson chats with one of the youngest conference presenters

I clearly wasn’t the only one to notice the spectacular nature of what was occurring in this wonderfully expansive learning space. NMC CEO Larry Johnson, visiting with Steighner’s learners during the Idea Lab session, was clearly as moved by the experience as any of us were. After listening to the students describe what they have gained, he reached into his pocket and in what was clearly an unplanned act, handed each of them a business card and told them that when these fourth- and fifth-grade students were ready to enter the workforce, there would be a place waiting for them at the New Media Consortium.

“When NMC started the Ambassador Program a year ago, did you have any idea that people like Cheryl would be producing results like this at an NMC conference?” I asked him a few minutes later.

“Not in my wildest dreams,” he responded without hesitation.

It simply has to be said: the ambassador project is one well worth observing and emulating, and those fourth- and fifth-grade learners who are becoming our partners merit all the attention we can give them, for they are going to be entering our workplaces sooner than we think. And the learning experiences and expectations they bring with them are going to offer us magnificent opportunities to continue growing with and responding to the evolving challenges of training-teaching-learning—or they are going to leave us in the dust.

“They are going to change the world,” Steighner predicts in a way that cannot be denied, for they already are as we spend time with them. Learn from them. And are inspired to be even better than we are at what we do.


NMC 2014 Summer Conference: Lighting Candles and Taking It Down  

June 18, 2014

Listening to Tom Haymes (director, technology & instructional computing at Houston Community College Northwest) talk about how to create idea spaces this afternoon at the New Media Consortium (NMC) 2014 Summer [ed-tech] Conference here in Portland, Oregon, I realized that worlds were converging. What better place, after all, to be hearing and dreaming about those creatively dynamic and innovative academic learning centers than at a conference which brings colleagues together to at least temporarily form an inspiring space for the development and sharing of ideas?

Haymes--Idea_SpacesThe topic Haymes was addressing—the need to be “looking at our spaces, the time allotted for reflection, and the mental, institutional and cultural structures we put into place to support teaching and learning”—isn’t just something of interest to those of us at this first-rate ed-tech conference; it’s a topic that is essential to what I see my training-teaching-learning colleagues in workplace learning and performance (staff training) endeavors and in libraries, museums, and other community-based learning organizations considering, promoting, and doing.

While Haymes posed it in terms of academic settings by rhetorically asking why our classrooms often continue to look the way they have looked for generations, he could have just as easily been posing the same question to anyone involved in training-teaching-learning. Whether we are absorbing gems from the best of lecturers or suffering through deadly-dull lectures, we have access to a steady stream of research showing how relatively ineffective the lecture as a learning tool is, yet it continues to be the paradigm in much of what we encounter through our lifelong learning efforts.

Increasingly, however, we are also encountering wonderful extensions of the decades-long search for models more effective than the learner-as-sponge lecture model: the best of our connectivist massive open online courses (MOOCs), for example, create cross-platform virtual settings for engaging learning experiences; the information commons model that has extended beyond the walls of academic libraries into public library settings seems to be morphing into makerspaces and innovation centers that are changing the shape of some of our community learning centers, and those idea spaces that Haymes so tantalizingly dangled before us this afternoon give us something else to dream about—and strive to produce. It’s all part of moving us from what Haymes described as the quintessential learner question—“What do I have to do to get an A in this course?”—to the all-too-infrequently-asked question, “What can I learn in this class?”

And Haymes wasn’t quite done with us at that point; he also described how he and his campus colleagues are designing for synergistic innovation: “We really designed the entire campus to be a learning space, where all of the pieces work together”—which, again, is a wonderful goal for all of us in training-teaching-learning to explore and pursue since it places an emphasis on the same holistic approach to learning-space design as we should be taking to the learning process itself.

NMC Summer Conference - PortlandWe come full circle here: classrooms as idea spaces, and conferences as idea spaces where learning occurs naturally. We heard NMC CEO Larry Johnson begin the first full day of formal keynote addresses, presentations, and other activities with the playful directive “Let’s light this candle!” We heard him at the end of the day offer what I’ve come to accept as the “Conference Lament”–an acknowledgement that when you convene a creative group of trainer-teacher-lifelong learners who incorporate conference backchannels into their learning experience, you’re going to find that no conference wireless system can possibly keep up with all of us: “We’re an Internet organization; everywhere we go, we take it down,” he told conference participants in a moment of levity near the end of the day. “”We bought you a great Internet experience; I’m sorry you’re not getting it.” But what we did get as we reconvened as a group at the end of the day was a fabulous series of five-minute presentations from colleagues whose learning innovations make us wonder why we would settle for anything less than the most adventurous and productive approaches possible. And the icing on the cake was an end-of-day keynote presentation by photographer-visual storyteller Bill Frakes, whose short films on cranes and “a teacher remembered” were stunningly, heartbreakingly beautiful explorations of artistry, creativity, innovative use of technology, and the power of storytelling.

There’s still another full day of sharing our temporary idea space here in Portland. And I have no doubt that when it comes to an end, the sense of augmented emotional reality that this sort of immersive environment creates will once again begin to dissipate. But the important and more long-term transformation that the idea spaces in our lives inspire are the learning model most worth pursuing—which is the gift our NMC colleagues are once again providing.


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