Connected Courses MOOC (#ccourses) and #oclmooc: Communities Dealing With Violations  

October 5, 2014

We shouldn’t be surprised when we discover that our communities—onsite as well as online—are less safe than we expect them to be. But we are. Because we really do want to believe the best of people even though so many of them/us prove to be less than worthy of that trust. Which is probably why “trust” and “community and collaboration” are among the important aspects of online learning currently receiving attention both in the Connected Courses MOOC (#ccourses) and the Open and Connected Learning MOOC (#oclmooc) communities of learning.

ccourses_logoThese two connectivist massive open online courses (MOOCs) are creating a wonderful sense of what is possible in well-managed and well-supported communities of learning. They are also providing ample opportunities—some of them unanticipated—for us to celebrate the positive side of online interactions and to react and respond to the less savory side of the online world—rather than abandoning online interactions completely.

Posts by two of our colleagues—Alec Couros and Alan Levine—recently made us aware of what happens when others violate that trust. Couros describes how he and others had their trust violated through an unethical practice known as “catfishing”—a form of Internet fraud in which “individuals or groups create false identities to lure victims into online, romantic relationships.”  There are the obvious victims: the men or women who fall for the fraudulent online postings. There are also the less obvious victims: people like Couros and Levine, who discovered that their photographs have been used as part of the fraudulent online accounts that entrap people who haven’t fully developed first-rate digital literacy skills, including what Howard Rheingold calls “crap detection.”

oclmooc_logoAn experience two online learning colleagues described earlier today reminded me that regardless of how digitally literate we become, we are going to have to ready for and confront online violations within our communities—particularly when we least expect them. It serves us well to be as prepared as possible to react strongly and positively when that moment arrives. My colleagues—both well versed in online interactions via a variety of mainstream platforms including Twitter and Google+ Hangouts—had their moment today when someone posing as a member of one of their learning communities joined a Hangout they were facilitating. Before they knew what was happening, they were exposed to an obviously unwanted sight: a close-up image of the man’s genitals. They quickly shut the session down, and then engaged in a debrief of what we all might learn.

This is where our connected learning efforts provide positive options for us. While recognizing that we’re never going to be able to completely eradicate this unwelcome behavior, we also recognize that the best way to combat it is to shine light on it. Connect with others to share resources and ideas of how to most quickly push it aside so our communities remain as positive and unsoiled as they possible can be (e.g., by publicly disseminating guides like Google’s “Report Abuse in Public Video Hangouts in Google+”). And make sure that, for every individual subjected to this sort of violation, thousands of other people are vigilantly acting together to object to and push away those unwanted acts of aggression.

I hope my colleagues will follow through on their plan to document what happened to them. I hope that all of us find ways to marginalize those who want to make our communities less than they should be. And I hope that we take the time to do what I’m about to do: support our proactive colleagues by drawing more attention to their best work—like the work of Sarah Houghton, who blogs as Librarian in Black.

Librarian_in_Black--Sarah_HoughtonSarah is a trusted and cherished colleague who tirelessly addresses issues—like face-to-face and online harassment—consistently, directly, and often with a sense of humor even when she is documenting the most distressing, disgusting situations imaginable. Many of us—after moving beyond the initial shock we felt upon reading what she was describing—stood up and cheered (privately and publicly) when she first described the levels of harassment to which she had been subjected by members of her profession; we supported her because what was done to her hurt (and continues to hurt) all of us, and we wanted to be sure that others knew that when they disrupted our community, we would do all we could to stop the disruption. When she addressed the controversy brewing around efforts to create a code of conduct for conference attendees, we were right there with her to be sure those posting anonymous obscene responses were drowned out by calls for positive action. And when Sarah recently wrote a deeply personal article about the toll violations have taken on her, we were quick to publicly and vocally outnumber the first anonymous respondent who was naïve enough to believe that abusive comments online would be allowed to stand unchallenged on our virtual community’s turf.

That’s what we do for Sarah. That’s what we do for our #ccourses colleagues. That’s what we do for our #oclmooc colleagues. And that’s what we do for ourselves. Because we care. Because we trust that connected learning and connectivist MOOCs and the care and cultivation of our online communities matters. And because we must.

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

Sarah Houghton-Jan: Tech Training That Works for Anyone

August 12, 2010

Sarah Houghton-Jan, whose work as Digital Futures Manager for the San José Public Library and as author of the Librarian in Black blog has earned her justifiably large amounts of attention and praise, has produced a dream book that is well suited for audiences far beyond its stated target.

Technology Training in Libraries sparkles with Houghton-Jan’s well deserved reputation for jargon-free, plain-talking, and humorously honest help for readers: “…having staff members who are not adequately trained in technology trying to support library users is like having a cardboard egg carton holding up an SUV,” she suggests (p. 5) in a statement that could easily be applied to workers in many other organizations. She also provides at least a partial answer to a question I heard a few years ago: what can corporate knowledge management and training professionals learn from library and information science professionals, and vice versa? Plenty, if we read Technology Training in Libraries and don’t limit ourselves by applying the information solely to those who work in libraries.

Early on, for example, Houghton-Jan provides a list of “essential technology training topics in libraries” and other potential training topics—nearly all of which could just as easily be adapted within a nonprofit or commercial organization looking to develop a cutting-edge workforce (pp. 6-7). Employees in libraries are clearly not the only ones who need to master technology terminology; understand how to effectively use email, web browsers, and online search skills to the benefit of the customers they serve; and be able to avoid ergonomic problems caused by improper set-up of employees’ (and customers’) work stations. And the writer’s list of areas of future growth—cloud computing, surface computing, open source software development among them—are equally applicable and important to workplace learning and performance programs and knowledge managers in nearly any professional setting today.

She also focuses on and acknowledges common-sense elements that are often overlooked, including the importance of providing learner-centric training: “Ask yourself—how would attendees have a better learning experience?” (p. 9).

The remainder of the book is equally useful and well organized as she devotes pithy chapters to planning, implementing, marketing, establishing best practices for, and evaluating the delivery of effective technology training. She doesn’t skimp on the basics: she includes plenty of tips for how to develop a list of skills to be addressed through training (pp. 13-20); a suggested list of “five key elements to keep in mind” when deciding what to include in training (customer demand, organizational goals, immediate return on investment, training effectiveness, and consequences of not providing training—pp. 34-35); and suggestions on how to establish peer training and train the trainer programs (pp. 65-70).

Online training resources receive generous attention throughout the book, particularly on pages 80–86, and there’s even a brief description (p. 83) of an innovation in online delivery that I still remember fondly—the use of Skype as a delivery tool for a segment of the 2007 offering of the annual Future of Libraries conference sponsored by a local San Francisco Bay Area training consortium now known as the Pacific Library Partnership Staff Development Committee. That Skype session was described online at the time both by Houghton-Jan and her Skype co-presenter, Char Booth.

The extensive recommended resources listings and bibliography at the end of the book, furthermore, are icing on a well baked cake, leaving readers with plenty of useful resources—including several used as links in this summary of her work. Those in search of dessert as well as a substantial main course will find both in Technology Training in Libraries, and we all owe Houghton-Jan and her publisher a round of applause for making the information available in such a concise fashion (103 pages of text, followed by the additional resources already mentioned).

Trainers Talking: Maurice Coleman and Sarah Houghton-Jan

January 11, 2010

When two of the great voices in training meet (virtually) to explore their craft, the rest of us can listen with pleasure. And learn. Which is exactly what happens in a new special recording in the T Is For Training series. Program host Maurice Coleman, Technical Trainer at Harford County (MD) Public Library, interviews Librarian in Black Sarah Houghton-Jan in a session now available online, and the result provides comfort and inspiration for all of us.

Worried about feeling overwhelmed by the flood of information we drown in nearly every day? Then you’ll be relieved to hear Houghton-Jan admit that having subscriptions to approximately 690 RSS feeds and more than 30 newsletters finally forced her to do a massive amount of trimming to bring that deluge under control.

“I have this drive to know everything all the time,” she explains before noting that she is now “down to about 100” feeds and just a few newsletters. She still consults too many sources, she acknowledges, but is finding sites including ReadWriteWeb (web products and trends), technology strategist Emily Chang’s eHub blog, and Lifehacker (a blog designed to help readers efficiently and easily accomplish a variety of technology and other tasks) helpful in efforts to remain current as a writer, trainer, presenter, and the Digital Futures Manager for the San Jose Public Library system in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Wondering how trainers can acquire a better understanding of the market they serve? Then her description of traveling up and down the state of California while teaching for Infopeople provides a great reminder that the best workplace learning and performance practitioners are continually learning while they work.

Curious about whether well respected trainers and other presenters feel the same nervousness you feel when you stand before an audience and, if so, how they deal with that challenge? Then you’ll enjoy Houghton-Jan’s description of how she has learned to remove the shakiness from her voice at those moments by “quieting” her voice: “I don’t think it matters who you are…We all get nervous,” she says.

And if you’re still struggling to come to terms with how to strike an adequate work-life balance, you may benefit from the words she offers here: “…some sort of work-life balance is not a luxury. It’s a necessity…It’s not OK to spend 18 hours a day away from home…and then, when you get home, spend another three hours on the computer.”

Which is fine, as long as we don’t spend so much time away from our computers or mobile devices that we overlook the pleasures of passing an hour or so with colleagues like Coleman and Houghton-Jan.

The Spirit of Volunteerism (3rd of 3): David Moebs

June 6, 2009


Having spent time recently writing about Sarah Houghton-Jan and Lori Reed, two trainer-teacher-learners who embody the true spirit of volunteerism in all they do, I’m turning toward another friend whose volunteer efforts in the world of nonprofit organizations provide a timeless example of how those facing tremendous challenges sometimes keep the rest of us inspired.

David Moebs has touched and changed a lot of lives through his commitment to the arts. A professional clarinetist and teacher working with children through the San Francisco Conservatory of Music Preparatory Department, he attracted significant numbers of undergraduate- and graduate-level students to the school while also employed in its admissions office, and his efforts on behalf of his fellow musicians in the Sacramento Symphony until the organization folded in 1996 gave him a level of credibility others might not have achieved.

Like Sarah and Lori, he accomplished much of this after learning that he was facing severe physical challenges: he was diagnosed as being HIV-positive in 1985.  During the initial years after he received that diagnosis, this wonderful educator volunteered for clinical tests designed to find ways to lessen or eradicate the effects of AIDS. He maintained his position as a Conservatory employee, a Prep Department instructor, and member of the Sacramento Symphony. And he continued, with whatever free time he had, to work on behalf of those he cared about by volunteering to serve on the Symphony musician union’s negotiating team during extremely stressful discussions even though he understood that the effects of that stress might have devastating effects on his health.

Remembering some of the difficulties he had as a young gay man in a less than accepting environment, he looked for ways to help others in a similar situation better cope with the challenges they faced. Wanting to use his knowledge of and passion for the arts in those endeavors, he enrolled in a creative writing course and considered adding coursework to his already busy schedule so he could earn a counseling degree which would qualify him to work with gay teens who needed all the support they could find.

When David’s health took a drastic and potentially fatal turn for the worse with a diagnosis of Progressive Multifocal Leukoencephalopathy—PML—most of us assumed he was finally out of time. As PML rapidly progressed over a two-month period by consuming significant levels of the myelin sheath around his nerves, his ability to play clarinet rapidly disappeared. Along with his ability to move and talk and maintain his independence. But his sense of humor during that awful period of time never failed; as a few of us were watching television together one evening and sat through a commercial citing the symptoms of diabetes—all of which matched parts of what he was experiencing—he looked at us, smiled, and struggled to say, “Oh, thank God; I thought I had PML.”

The rapid decline appeared to reverse itself on Thanksgiving morning that year; without warning or explanation, he was able to get out of his bed, walk around a little, and eventually join us for a Thanksgiving meal. Over the next few months, he began feeling well enough to attempt to play the clarinet again. He took steps to register for those counseling courses he had been hoping to complete. And he even began driving short distances again.

But at the end of what appeared to be an entire year of recovery, the effects of PML became apparent once again, and within a few months he was no longer able to remain at home even with the around-the-clock care friends and professional nursing staff were struggling to provide. So in May 1998, he moved into Coming Home Hospice, in San Francisco’s Castro District. As he drifted in and out of consciousness, his friends would sometimes see him reach into the air and flutter his fingers.

“Was he a musician?” one of the hospice attendants asked. “It looks like he’s trying to play an instrument.”

We gladly volunteered to hold his hands and rub his back long after he stopped giving any sign that he knew we were there. His eyes stared blankly up toward one of the corners of the ceiling.

“We call it ‘watching the angels,” a hospice worker told us. “It’s very common when the end is near.”

I read him passages from his favorite books even though there were no visible responses, and I didn’t care whether he was trying to communicate with me or was simply displaying reflex actions when I felt his hand squeeze mine a couple of times.

And when he passed away, exactly eleven years ago, I knew I’d lost an irreplaceable friend. Who continues to inspire me to watch for the angels in my life. And to volunteer in every way I can to carry on the spirit they embody.

–In memory of David, January 27, 1959 – June 6, 1998

The Spirit of Volunteerism (2nd of 3): Lori Reed

June 4, 2009


In writing about Librarian in Black Sarah Houghton-Jan and her decision to volunteer personal information about herself in the hope that it would make a positive difference for others, I was struck by the spirit of volunteerism which seems almost genetically imbedded into the trainer-teacher-learners I know.

There’s a willingness among them take risks; reveal personal details which contribute something meaningful to other learners; and ungrudgingly volunteer time and effort to support an incredibly large and significant number of projects, endeavors, and causes which make their—our—onsite and online communities better places than they otherwise would be.

Reading Sarah’s revelations about the health challenges she and others with Ehlers-Danlos-Syndrome face and knowing that she will do whatever she can to help others, I immediately thought of another friend-colleague-associate who is an equally committed trainer-teacher-learner with an incredible penchant for volunteerism: Lori Reed, the Employee Learning & Development Coordinator for the Public Library of Charlotte & Mecklenburg County, a blogger whose work is highly admired and frequently read, and a volunteer who is active in the American Library Association’s training group (CLENE—soon to become LEARNING) and the American Society for Training & Development.

And, like Sarah, she faces challenges—in Lori’s case, a diagnosis of “a form of muscular dystrophy called charcot-marie-tooth disease,” which she disclosed in a blog posting in October 2008.

Neither Sarah nor Lori have spent much time talking about their conditions; each chose to make those revelations in one-time postings to help others learn something important. And then they have moved on.  Because they are far too busy volunteering and being paid to make significant contributions to libraries and those who use them. To training-teaching-learning. And many other causes to which they give themselves heart and mind and soul.

Lori, for example, currently serves as Co-VP of Membership on the board of directors for the ASTD Charlotte Chapter. She also frequently volunteers to speak at more conferences than most of us will attend in a lifetime; is a frequent presenter on webcasts and webinars; writes for publication; and maintains her Library Trainer blog and LibraryLearning Google group which provide our community of learners with additional virtual meeting places to exchange ideas and become better at what we do.

If you’re at all interested or active in training, teaching, and learning—particularly in libraries—you’re going to find Lori and Sarah at the center of the world where workplace learning and performance professionals meet. And, in the spirit of volunteerism which each so clearly and effectively displays, Lori and Sarah won’t be there as self-aggrandizing rock stars, but as passionate movers and shakers, as Library Journal acknowledged this year. Through words and deeds, they help keep the rest of us alive. Awake. And inspired.

Next: The Spirit of Volunteerism—The One Who Got Away

The Spirit of Volunteerism (1st of 3): Sarah Houghton-Jan

June 2, 2009


Sarah Houghton-Jan, our wonderful Librarian in Black, has volunteered a teaching-training-learning moment so breathtakingly profound that it begs to be acknowledged before the largest possible audience.

Some of our colleagues continue to try teaching and training by the old fire-hose method: shoot a stream of lessons so strong, so relentlessly forceful, that they leave learners soaked, nearly drowning in information—an educational version of waterboarding that leaves no one unscathed. 

Sarah, on the other hand, draws us in and serves as an open and engaging partner in a teaching-training-learning process where all of us are partners, members of a community of learning. Hearing her, reading what she writes, and talking with her always brings us unexpected pleasure. When Sarah, for example, wrote a wonderfully detailed article on “Being Wired or Being Tired: 10 Ways to Cope with Information Overload” (published online in the July 2008 issue of Ariadne), she inspired many of us to carve out time we didn’t have to read the piece. And think. And breathe. The only reader who may not have benefitted from the writer’s wisdom was Sarah herself, as I noted in an article originally posted on Infoblog and reposted here on Building Creative Bridges for those who missed the original; the result of her posting was an increased number of requests from people wanting her to speak on the topic she had just covered in writing. Requests which she accepted, of course. 

Those of us who follow her work see her as an engaging and prolific writertrainerconsultant who appears inexhaustible and completely dedicated to improving everything she touches. That would be one of the many reasons why she was honored this year by Library Journal as a mover and shaker. 

But perhaps nothing will move and shake her readers more than the article she recently posted to make everyone aware of Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome and what it means to her and others who have it. Don’t go looking for a single word of self-pity here; that’s not what Sarah offers us, nor is it something to which she willingly succumbs. What she has voluntarily offered is free entry into the challenging world she and others among us inhabit. 

And it works.

A topic which would hold little interest for most of us suddenly becomes compelling. Understandable. And real. Because of Sarah’s writing skills. Her personality—all that makes her the person she has become. Her humanity. And her decision to share personal and painful information in the least painful of ways

In case it isn’t absolutely clear from all I’ve written here, let me be blunt: I love volunteers and the spirit of volunteerism. I work with volunteers and am an active volunteer myself. So when I see the sort of volunteerism that Sarah displays through the posting of her article, I stand in awe of all she does and all she represents. And hope that by taking the time to call additional attention to what she is teaching us, you will too.

Next: The Spirit of Volunteerism–Lori Reed

Best Practices: Sarah Houghton-Jan on “Being Wired or Being Tired”

June 2, 2009


Infopeople instructor and Librarian in Black Sarah Houghton-Jan has hit another home run, and it would take someone like Sarah to pull this off.

In “Being Wired or Being Tired: 10 Ways to Cope with Information Overload” (published online in the July 2008 issue of Ariadne), she produces a journal-length article of more than 6,000 words for those of us who don’t have enough time to do everything we want to do. The piece ends with 16 references for those wanting more information. And she manages to entice us into making the time to read the entire piece.

“I am still here, I am still alive, and my brain has yet to explode, so somehow I must be finding a way to make it work,” she writes at the beginning of the article, and we’re with her all the way from her brief history of information overload, through the techniques for managing overload, to her conclusion that “as information professionals, we are best equipped to recognize information overload and deal with its effects.”

There is lots of common sense here: filtering the information we receive; controlling rather than being controlled by incoming email; not feeling compelled to answer every phone call or instant message as it comes in; and having no hesitation about turning off a cell phone when interruptions will interfere with our ability to complete important tasks or be attentive during meetings.

We also find some uncommon yet easy-to-implement suggestions here for those of us congenitally afraid of cutting ourselves off from any information source: “Cancel subscriptions to periodicals you rarely read. If you do not get to read the Sunday paper until the following Saturday, that is a clear sign that you need less information,” she counsels in a section on print media overload techniques.

Nearing the end of the article, she takes us to the heart of the matter in a paragraph on balancing life and work: “If you find yourself tapping at a keyboard next to your partner on the sofa while you are watching a movie, instead of sidling up next to him or her, you may have a work/life balance problem…”

“Being Wired” is obviously resonating with readers: Sarah is receiving quite a few queries from those interested in having her speak to their groups on the topic. Which, we can only assume, is adding to her own overload while she is helping us reduce our own.

This item was originally posted on September 26,  2008 on Infoblog at

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