Changing the World With Jeff Merrell (Part 2 of 2)

March 19, 2018

This is the second part of a two-part interview conducted with Jeff Merrell, Associate Director of Northwestern University’s Master’s Program in Learning & Organizational Change, for my book Change the World Using Social Media (Rowman & Littlefield; projected publication date is autumn 2018). The interview was conducted online using a shared Google Doc, and has been lightly edited.

 

Jeff Merrell

In a world where employers encourage employees to be available around the clock via the use of mobile devices, is the old rule of thumb “don’t talk politics at work” even a realistic approach anymore, given that lines between personal and professional activities are being inadvertently erased–through actions rather than by design?

Ah. There’s the $1,000,000,000 question.

Look, for me, it starts and ends with the organizational culture. I would not attempt to have “let’s talk social issues” discussions on a large scale if my company or organization did not do that naturally, in other forms. I am going back to my blog post rant a bit here, but I think some things like #MeToo, news around things like Charlottesville, can inspire some short-term discussions of topics within an organization’s online spaces. Maybe it allows people to—in a tiny way—share something that they’ve wanted to say. I’ve heard examples of this. But, for longer term impact, I think organizations need to think about how they “talk” about these issues routinely, in hybrid ways, where the online conversations are extensions or variations of what happens in other ways.

If your organizational culture isn’t strong enough to handle that, or your organizational philosophy does not incorporate some strong element of social impact, then you are not going to get very far.

It’s. Not. About. Social media.

Thanks. That’s really helping me to clarify something I’ve been exploring through these interviews: the impact that social activism through efforts including #MeToo have in settings far beyond what those involved may have originally thought would occur. I’m finding that few people are looking at the professional social media tools, e.g., LinkedIn, Slack, and Yammer, as means to foster social change. Thoughts on how those might fit in to what you just said in terms of conversations among our professional colleagues onsite as well as online?

Well, let’s start with LinkedIn. LinkedIn is about your “brand.” So right there, you are screwed unless you as an individual are seeking to be branded as social activist. But I would suspect—maybe I am wrong—that someone with that mindset would find LinkedIn just not a fit. It’s about people trying to create professional brand in the traditional corporate model.

Slack and Yammer, and similar, allow more co-construction of “space.” A group of social activists, within an organization, could easily start up a Slack community of trusted peers etc., set norms for participation, and maybe have a go of it.

But again, if the organizational culture is not accepting, respecting of that kind of conversation, then it will likely just be some dark secret thread. Where there is hope is when these spaces become places where people might be able to explore difficult topics and the organization is OK with that.

About halfway through the “There is hope in pushing a conversation” section of your “Revisiting: A critical pedagogy for organizational learning?” post, you talk about a “kind of collision between the ‘outside’ social world and internal organizational world…” Have you seen positive change result among those with whom you work as a result of the interactions taking place in the layered communities you mentioned earlier in this conversation?

Let me start over with a couple of examples.

Two of the most powerful “open” discussions we’ve had within our community (so…open to the entire community, but not open to the public) have been about 1) Being a Muslim—visiting student—in the U.S. and 2) the challenges of being a female in tech.

In both cases, these are very strong, female leaders who opened these discussions. And each was spurred by some outside event. Each also said—they would not write what they wrote anywhere else than within the community we created. And each, also, were very savvy social media users—blogging, on Twitter, etc.

And the discussion threads—and related conversations outside of the online space—I found productive for the community as a whole. That was also the general sense of the leaders in this program, and from what I could gather, the community itself,

Positive change coming from it? Not sure I can point to the lives of Muslim students being any “safer” or that women in tech are better off now. But there is a history here that now proves and demonstrates that our [learning] community—MSLOC—can take on these topics and explore them and learn from them.

That sort of takes us into the area of the same blog post that discusses “intentionally subverting the norm” as a way of fostering change. Any additional guidance you would offer readers in terms of the impacts that approach can have within organizations as well as onsite and online communities?

Yes, this is an interesting question. I recognize that there is some “power” at play here in what I am about to write, but I think a key is calling out (in a positive way) when “subverting the norm” happens. So, say I am a community manager or a leader and recognize that some set of voices are challenging our assumptions, but the challenge is productive in some way. For me, a key is just calling that out: Hey, this is great! We may not agree on all of it, but we love the critical thinking. And maybe engage in some true active listening—online or off—that results in some change in practices or routines.

I see those moments in facilitating classes. So, my perspective comes from that. If I am doing my job well, I am recognizing and encouraging multiple voices to be heard and to challenge assumptions.

How can you foster trust and safety in online environments when incivility is rampant?

Within organizations, don’t hire people who are incivil. 🙂

I say that half-jokingly. But it gets to my culture bit. If you bring in people who want to be civil participants, and you create a culture that allows for all voices to be heard and respected, then you’ve got a chance. But if all you are about is brand, making as much profit as possible by taking advantage of employees or customers, and beating the competition by any means possible, you’re hosed.

 N.B. — Paul is currently writing Change the World Using Social Mediascheduled for publication by Rowman & Littlefield in Winter/Spring 2019. This is the eleventh in a continuing series of excerpts from and interviews for the manuscript in progress.

Advertisements

Changing the World With Jeff Merrell (Part 1 of 2)

March 19, 2018

This is the first of a two-part interview conducted with Jeff Merrell, Associate Director of Northwestern University’s Master’s Program in Learning & Organizational Change, for my book Change the World Using Social Media (Rowman & Littlefield; projected publication date is autumn 2018). The interview was conducted online using a shared Google Doc, and has been lightly edited.

 

Jeff Merrell

Let’s start with an attempt to set context: can you provide a brief summary of the enterprise technology and organizational learning course you’re currently facilitating or simply cut and paste the course description into this document here?

Let me do both.

http://www.sesp.northwestern.edu/masters-learning-and-organizational-change/designing-for-organizational-effectiveness-certification/creating-and-sharing-knowledge.html

This course explores enterprise social networking technology and its impact on organizational knowledge and organizational learning in the workplace. The course will introduce theory, concepts and frameworks to help you understand knowledge sharing and learning within communities and networks of practitioners, the unique attributes of social networking technology as it applies to organizations, and current uses of network technology to change the way people work or learn (i.e., crowdsourcing and personal learning networks). Finally, you will learn to apply course concepts through prototyping, class projects and business cases.

Topics

  1. Social-practice perspectives of organizational knowledge and learning
  2. Enterprise social networking technologies
  3. Communities and networks in organizations
  4. Innovative models (MOOCs, communities, personal learning networks, crowdsourcing, narrating-your-work)
  5. Prototyping new models
  6. Assessing opportunities for new digital solutions to organizational challenges
  7. Aligning digital solutions to strategic organizational challenges

My own words here:

Our M.S. program, for the past 6+ years, has used Jive as our “learning” platform. We intentionally tried to create more of a workplace feel for our program, rather than using an academic LMS [learning management system]. Jive is an enterprise social network platform that allow us to have dialogue and interactions within courses—privately—and across our entire community of learners, faculty, staff, and alumni. All within one space—and it very much looks like a corporate social intranet.

So, in my course, I have the advantage of leveraging our platform to talk about the issues of enterprise social media. But we also look at things like Yammer, Slack, and, sometimes, other platforms—Chatter—to get a sense of what the field looks like.

But at the end of the day, the course focuses on how enterprise social media and people co-construct/co-constitute the environment. We’re not techno-determinists.

A phrase you just used—“across our entire community of learners, faculty, staff and alum”–perfectly captures what has been so attractive to me in all the work I’ve seen you do since we first met in a MOOC several years ago. Is there a strong sense in your course community that the classroom is the entire world since you so frequently engage participation that encourages collaboration between those enrolled in a course and those who are practitioners, participating with you and your learners through social media?

I think what student come away with, appreciating—I hope!!—are the “layers” of community and networks created by different levels of privacy. So, our class group—community—of maybe 25 to 30 people is only visible to those enrolled in the course. We work hard to create a safe learning space there. The next layer above that is the MS Learning and Organizational Change “community”—some 250 to 300 people. And then, finally, the outside world—Twitter, etc.

What we look at is: What does it feel like to exist across those communities? And why is that important to understand?

The conversation tend to get at safety, trust—“knowing people,” as in close social ties. Keep in mind that all of our students meet face to face as well, so they do know each other.

But for anyone leading in today’s organizations, my bias is that it is important to understand these layers of privacy and community and how that impacts experience.

Remembering that readers of this book are people interested in better understanding how to use social media to foster social change, what specific guidance would you offer them in the following areas: What does it feel like to exist across those communities? And why is that important to understand?

Persistence and visibility—two of the affordances of enterprise social media—scare people, especially in a professional setting. In smaller-scale communities, with a community manager or facilitator who maybe speaks the professional language of the community, you can begin to create a safe place to share. You can create norms that—hopefully—prevent and mitigate the risk of unproductive comments.

But that does not mean that the culture you create in that smaller community necessarily translates to something more public. The more visibility, the more people just freak out, or self-monitor what they do or do not say.

So, if my goal is to have open discussions about critical, tough issues—and I want a variety of voices to be truly heard—don’t assume that because people are open in one tight community that they would be willing to say the same elsewhere. We have amazing, sensitive conversations in our class groups. They rarely “leak out” to the larger community, even when we nudge students to do so. It’s a difficult trick.

N.B. — Paul is currently writing Change the World Using Social Mediascheduled for publication by Rowman & Littlefield in Winter/Spring 2019. This is the tenth in a continuing series of excerpts from and interviews for the manuscript in progress.


AEJMC 2015 Annual Conference: MOOCs, Journalism, and Learning

August 14, 2015

When someone talks about actually having several thousand people come to class, I’m all ears—as I was again last weekend while serving on a panel discussion on the closing day of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communications (AEJMC)  98th Annual Conference here in San Francisco.

AEJMC_2015--Logo[2]The conversation, built around the question of how massive open online courses (MOOCs) are changing universities, gave moderator Amanda Sturgill (Elon University School of Communications) and the four of us serving as panelists a wonderful opportunity to explore, with session attendees, some of the pleasures and challenges of designing and facilitating these still-evolving learning opportunities. Each of the four of us—my colleagues on the panel included David Carlson (University of Florida College School of Journalism and Communications), Daniel Heimpel (University of California, Berkeley Goldman School of Public Policy), and Bozena Mierzejewska (Fordham University Gabelli School of Business)—has had hands-on experience with designing and facilitating MOOCs. Each of us, with little discussion, agreed that we see MOOCs augmenting rather than posing a threat to higher education. We acknowledged that preparing for a MOOC is a time-consuming, intense experience requiring plenty of collaboration and coordination of efforts. And we seemed to be in agreement that a MOOC can be means to an end: a MOOC on journalism for social change, for example, engages learners as journalists whose work has the possibility of being published, and a MOOC on educational technology and media engages trainer-teacher-learners in the act of learning about ed-tech by exploring and using ed-tech while ultimately (and unexpectedly) leading to a sustainable community of learning that continues to evolve long after the formal coursework ends.

But perhaps the most meaningful observations were those that took us to the heart of why we are engaged in designing, delivering, and promoting MOOCs: we became teacher-trainer-learners because we want to help people, and MOOCs are a great way to achieve that goal if learners have access to the content and if they are supported in learning how to learn in our online environments. Furthermore, MOOCs provide additional ways to meet the ever-growing lifelong-learning needs so many of us encounter. As each of us discussed projects in which we have been involved, we and our audience members gained a deeper appreciation for the variety of explorations currently underway.

Journalism_for_Social_Change_MOOCHeimpel, for example, brought a couple of his own somewhat overlapping worlds together to the benefit of learners in his solutions-based journalism course, Journalism for Social Change, earlier this year. Combining the platform he has through UC Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy with his role as publisher at The Chronicle of Social Change, he was able to nurture course participants in their explorations of a specific social issue (child abuse) while providing publication opportunities for those whose work reached professional levels.

Open_Knowledge_MOOCMierzejewska, in her position at Fordham, had an entirely different opportunity: the chance to work with colleagues at four other academic institutions (Autonomous University of the State of Mexico, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Simon Fraser University, and Stanford University) in an Open Knowledge: Changing the Course of Global Learning MOOC while creating something that another of my colleagues (Jeff Merrell, at Northwestern University) has been exploring—a MOOC that has its expected online presence along with onsite interactions among some of the learners. Her preliminary report online is a fabulous case study of what this type of blended learning produces; it includes her up-front observation that being involved in the MOOC “was actually very inspiring and eye-opening to what students can learn online only and how you can enrich those experiences with classes that are flipped.”

Musics_Big_Bang_MOOCCarlson was our resident rock star with his description of what went into the making and delivery of his Music’s Big Bang: The Genesis of Rock ‘n’ Roll MOOC that attracted 30,000 registrations and brought several thousand of those potential learners into his virtual classroom. He mentioned challenges that many of us face—producing engaging videos, having to coordinate his efforts with a variety of colleagues to bring a massive undertaking of that nature to fruition, and the attention to detail required while making videos (e.g., if videos shot on different days were later edited together, obvious discontinuities such as the fact that he was wearing different outfits or had hair that changed in length from shot to shot became obvious).

But while all of us in that room last weekend might have laughed together over the small challenges of clothing changes and changing hair lengths, few of us could have walked away thinking MOOCs were any less than an important and still growing part of our learning landscape—one with tremendous potential to augment our short- and long-term learning opportunities for willing and able to explore them.


Learning When No One Is at the Center of the Room: Connected Courses MOOC (#ccourses)

November 10, 2014

Frequent flyers, at one time or another, have the disorienting experience of having to consciously look for reminders of where we are; our minds simply can’t keep up with the frequent leaps between cities, states, and, occasionally, countries. Frequent learners engaged in co-learning (what Edward Brantmeier describes as the act of changing roles so teachers and learners become “joint sojourners on the quest for knowledge, understanding, and…wisdom”) within the world of connected learning may be facing a parallel challenge in at least a couple of ways; when interacting with connected-learning colleagues, we need to remind ourselves which of our wonderfully overlapping communities of learning we are currently engaging (Is this #etmooc—the Educational Technology & Media massive open online course? #xplrpln—the Exploring Personal Learning Networks MOOC? #oclmooc—the Open and Connected Learning MOOC? #ccourses—the Connected Courses MOOC? Or all of the above?), and we have to remember that the line between teacher/trainer and learner is increasingly dissipating in the best of teaching-training-learning opportunities.

ccourses_logo“The Case of #etmooc”—a learning opportunity that is less than two hours away as I write these words—shows us just how all-encompassing, rewarding, and intricately interwoven co-learning can be when it is effectively supported. The one-hour webinar, which initiates a two-week-long exploration of co-learning within the Connected Learning MOOC (#ccourses) and will be archived online for viewing, promises to be an example of how co-learning works to the benefit of everyone involved. Start with the idea that #ccourses facilitators are using the session to examine how co-learning in #etmooc contributed to the creation of a community of learning that still continues more than 18 months after that connectivist MOOC formally concluded. Continue with the fact that the learning facilitators have transformed several of us who are current #ccourses learners into co-learners by inviting us to join them in the formal discussion and recording of the session this evening. Then consider the idea that one of those #ccourses facilitators, Alec Couros, was among those who introduced so many of us to connected learning and connectivist MOOCs while deepening our appreciation of co-learning through all he and his “co-conspirators” did to bring #etmooc to fruition.

etmoocAnd that’s not all. Among the co-learners are colleagues from #etmooc, #xplrpln, and #oclmooc. But not just any colleagues. We’ll be with Jeff Merrell, an #etmooc learner who crossed the co-learning line last year by playing a key role in designing and facilitating #xplrpln. And we’ll be there with several of the #etmooc learners who, having sustained the #etmooc community since the course ended, reunited earlier this year to design and deliver #oclmooc. If it’s beginning to sound as if “The Case of #etmooc” is another homecoming party for many of us, a celebration of how co-learning in online environments fosters training-teaching-learning opportunities unlike any we could have imagined a decade or two ago, and an invitation to the ball, then #etmooc, #xplrpln, #oclmooc, and #ccourses are doing exactly what great learning opportunities should do: providing learning spaces where no one stands alone at the front or in the center of the room, where new long-lasting cohorts of learners/co-learners gather and coalesce, and where everyone with the least amount of interest is welcome. And the best is yet to come since so many of us continually engage in the overlapping roles of teacher-trainer-learner: we will, no doubt, continue to adapt our ongoing co-learning experiences in ways that invite our own learners to, sooner than later, become co-learners in our jointly-shared endeavors.

N.B.: This is the twelfth in a series of posts documenting connected learning through #ccourses and #oclmooc.  


#oclmooc and Connected Courses MOOC: The World as Our Learning Space

September 5, 2014

Diving into two connectivist massive open online courses (MOOC) this month, I am learning to pay more attention to how rapidly our learning space is evolving.

Each of the MOOCs—the Connected Courses MOOC (#ccourses) offered by a “collaborative network of faculty in higher education developing online, open courses that embody the principles of connected learning and the values of the open web,” and the Open Connected Learning MOOC  (#oclmooc) originally started by a group of educators in Alberta and now expanding rapidly to include trainer-teacher-learners worldwide—offers me a different learning opportunity.

ccourses_logoIn #ccourses, I’ll be among those learning from and with a group of educators I very much admire and whose work I have been following for many years. There’s Mizuko Ito, whose work as a cowriter of the Digital Media and Learning Research Hub report Connected Learning: An Agenda for Research and Design broadened my understanding of and appreciation for connected learning after I read and wrote about it in early 2013. And Michael Wesch, whose YouTube video The Machine is Us/ing Us about Web 2.0 entirely changed the way I taught and learned and saw the world after watching the video in 2007. And Cathy Davidson, whose book Now You See It introduced me to the concept of “unlearning” as part of the learning process and who is listed as a participant in the September 15, 2014 #ccourses kick-off event. And Alec Couros, whose work on #etmooc (the Educational Technology & Media MOOC) in 2013 opened my eyes to the wonderful learning opportunities inherent in well-designed connectivist MOOCs and drew me into a community of learning that continues to sustain me in my training-teaching-learning efforts. And Alan Levine, whom I first met through the New Media Consortium several years ago and whose work on creating a blog hub for #etmooc set a high standard in terms of facilitating connected learning online and continues to provide learning objects to this day—nearly 18 months after the course formally concluded. And Howard Rheingold, whose writing on “crap detection” and so much more is a continuing source of inspiration.

oclmooc_logoThe #oclmooc experience, for me, will be very different. I’ll be working, as a “co-conspirator” helping design and deliver the MOOC, with an entirely different group of educators I very much admire—colleagues from other connectivist MOOCs, including #etmooc and the Exploring Personal Learning Networks MOOC (#xplrpln) designed and facilitated magnificently in 2013 by Jeff Merrell and Kimberly Scott at Northwestern University. I know that the learning curve for all of us has been tremendous—moving from learners in MOOCs to learning facilitators in MOOCs in less than two years—and that the best is yet to come. We’re already honing skills we developed in #etmooc and elsewhere—using Google Hangouts for our MOOC planning sessions, scheduling tweet chats to facilitate learning, organizing a blog hub so #oclmooc learners can create and disseminate their own learning objects as an integral part of their/our learning process. And as energetic and inspired trainer-teacher-learners, we’re pushing ourselves to further explore open connected learning and educational technology with our colleagues worldwide.

So yes, I am learning to pay attention to how rapidly our learning space is evolving—because I am continuing to learn viscerally, through the use of online educational technology, that the entire onsite-online world, more than ever before, is our primary learning space.

N.B.: This is the first in a series of posts documenting learning through #ccourses and #oclmooc.


#etmooc: Singing Happy Birthday to a Course

January 22, 2014

It’s not often that I’m invited to attend a birthday party for a course—but then again, it’s not often that I find myself immersed in a learning opportunity that produces the sort of sustainable community of learning that #etmooc has.

etmoocThat wonderful massive open online course (MOOC)—the Educational Technology and Media MOOC that Alec Couros and others offered to great acclaim in early 2013—was something that many of us heard about from colleagues or simply stumbled across during our general online explorations of MOOCs last year. The results (as have been so wonderfully documented in numerous blog postings including one written by #etmooc colleague Christina Hendricks, on the course Google+ community that continues to thrive nearly a year after the course formally ended, and in live tweet chats) inspired course colleagues Rhonda Jessen and Susan  Spellman Cann to organize and facilitate a first-anniversary online gathering of #etmooc alums via Twitter last week.

The results were predictably positive. Some of us who were drawn together through #etmooc and have remained in contact online were there, as were others who have not been as active in the post-#etmooc community—but clearly remain transformed, as teacher-trainer-learners, by what we all experienced. The full Storify transcript of the anniversary session compiled by Jesson and capturing more than 400 tweets from approximately 75 participants in that hour-long session is just the latest example of what a well-organized and wonderfully-facilitated MOOC can inspire—the transcript itself is a learning object that others can use and review if they want to bypass the meaningless exchanges about how few people “complete” a MOOC and look, instead, to see the sort of long-term learning that the best of MOOCs—particularly connectivist MOOCs—produce.

One of the many keys to the success of #etmooc as a learning experience and a sustainable community of learning is that it started as an opportunity to explore educational technology in a way that encouraged learners to become familiar with the material by using the resources being studied. If we wanted to see how blogging could be integrated into learning, we blogged and saw our work collected and made accessible through a blog hub that continues to thrive to this day as a resource with nearly 4,000 posts that would not otherwise exist for anyone interested in teaching-training-learning. If we wanted to see how Twitter could easily be incorporated into the learning process, we used Twitter as a vehicle to further our learning and, furthermore, saw those exchanges reach into other communities of learning. If we wanted to see how live interactive online sessions could draw us together and become archived learning objects, we participated in live online sessions through Blackboard Collaborate or viewed archived versions so compelling that they felt as if they were live rather than taped learning sessions.

xplrpln_logoAnother key to its success is that the learning has never stopped. In setting up the anniversary celebration—in essence, an #etmooc birthday party—Jessen and Cann encouraged all of us to continue documenting our MOOC successes by blogging about what we had learned and accomplished as a result of our participation. I look at the numerous blog postings I wrote and stand in awe of what Couros, his co-conspirators, and my MOOCmates inspired. I look at how participation in #etmooc led to participation in another connectivist MOOC–#xplrpln, the Exploring Personal Learning Networks MOOC that was a direct offshoot (from Jeff Merrell and Kimberly Scott  at Northwestern University) in fall of 2013. And I continue to hold far more gratitude than I can ever express for the ways these experiences have made me a better trainer-teacher-learner as I continue exploring ways to facilitate learning opportunities that benefit learners and those they serve in a variety of settings not only here in the United States but in other countries.

That’s what draws me to the work I do, and that’s what makes me believe, each time I think about the field of learning and how it connects us to each other, that it’s one of the most rewarding and transformative of endeavors any of us can undertake.

N.B.: This is part of a continuing  series of posts inspired by participation in #etmooc and other MOOCs.


Conferences, Twitter, and Staying Connected: No Longer Left Behind

October 28, 2013

An oft-repeated and rather poignant joke among some of my colleagues is becoming a thing of the past: those who wish they could but are unable to attend conferences—specifically those sponsored by the American Library Association—have long tried to keep up with onsite participants’ reports via Twitter, using the conference hashtag as well as #ALALeftBehind as points of connect. But more than a few of us are realizing that we can do more than sit by the virtual sidelines and watch everyone else have fun onsite, as I confirmed through a spur-of-the-moment experiment people attending the annual ASTD (American Society for Training & Development) Chapter Leaders Conference in Crystal City, Virginia a few days ago while I stayed home.

ASTD_ALC_2013--Logo

I’ve been on the other side of this left-behind fence many times, as I’ve noted through articles about participating onsite in backchannel conversations; ASTD colleague David Kelly has also written eloquently about Twitter, backchannels, and conferences. Several of us attending the annual ASTD International Conference & Exposition over the past couple of years have, as part of our Chapter Leader Day activities, reached out from the conference via short, live sessions to connect onsite colleagues with left-behind colleagues; we were attempting not only to reach out to and connect with those who stayed home, but to demonstrate how easy it could be for ASTD chapter leaders (or anyone else) to bring their local meetings to a larger audience through active Twitter feeds as well as via free tools including Google Hangouts and Skype. But I hadn’t been part of the #leftbehind gang until changing circumstances this year unexpectedly caused me, for the first time since 2008, to miss a couple of those onsite annual events that mean so much to me in terms of keeping up with my communities of learning and the ASTD colleagues who make up one very important part of my personal learning network (PLN).

The idea of trying to actively participate in the 2013 ASTD Chapter Leaders Conference via Twitter began taking shape when I saw a tweet from an onsite colleague expressing regret that I couldn’t be there for our annual joint presentation on nonprofit basics for chapter leaders. I jokingly responded, via Twitter, that I actually was there and that he had probably simply missed me up to that moment.

xplrpln_logoTransforming an offhand joke into the experiment quickly took shape as I thought about how I’ve been inspired to find new ways to reach out to members of my communities of learning and personal learning networks through the Exploring Personal Learning Networks (#xplrpln) course that Jeff Merrell and Kimberly Scott are currently facilitating under the auspices of the Northwestern University Master’s in Learning & Organizational Change Program. Less than 48 hours earlier, in fact, another ASTD colleague who is not in that massive open online course (MOOC) had stumbled into an #xplrpln session via Twitter, so it wasn’t much of a stretch for me to toy with the idea of doing the same thing via Twitter, but with a bit more planning and more deliberate actions designed to foster two-way participation.

It didn’t take long for the experiment to produce wonderful—although somewhat limited—results. Using a Twitter management tool (I defaulted to HootSuite.com, but Twubs.com and Tweetchat.com are among the tools that could have worked just as easily) at the end of the first day of the conference, I skimmed the feed late that evening, retweeted a few of the more interesting items just as I would have done if I had actually been onsite, and added comments, knowing that this had the potential not only to inspire interactions with onsite attendees but also draw in a few of my own followers on Twitter if they either retweeted or responded to those late-night posts.

Connected_Educator_Month_LogoBy the next morning, a couple of onsite colleagues had responded. And a little later, during the second day of that two-day conference, a couple of onsite conference attendees actually retweeted the notes I had retweeted. I continued to participate throughout the day as time allowed. The real pay-off for the experiment came when the exchanges put me in touch with one of the presenters who had seen the retweets and comments. The result, in many ways, was exactly what it would have been if I had been onsite and meeting members of those expanding communities of learning and personal learning networks rather than feeling as if I were part of the left-behind gang. The positive aspects of this are obvious: with a bit more planning and organization, onsite and offsite participants could be interacting at far more significant levels than the limited amount of interaction this experiment nurtured. And the obvious weakness of this plan is that the small number of onsite participants tweeting summaries of sessions made it difficult to participate in more than a few of those sessions at this level. But it was an interesting start—one that offers a lot of promise for any of us who want to nurture our communities of learning and personal learning networks in every way possible. And I certainly felt far less left behind and far more connected as a trainer-teacher-learner than would otherwise have been the case.

N.B.: This is the seventh in a series of posts inspired by Connected Educator Month and participation in #xplrlrn (the Exploring Personal Learning Networks massive open online course).


%d bloggers like this: