“Family,” for me, has always been an expansive term—one that has only taken on even more importance and meaning to me during what is now about to become a third month during which I am gladly following shelter-in-place guidelines adopted in response to the current coronavirus pandemic. “Family” obviously includes spouse/partner, parents, siblings, children, grandchildren, cousins, and much more. It’s something we are celebrating today through recognition of International Day of Families—a celebration that came to my attention quite accidentally as I was watching the latest in the wonderfully funny Pluto Livingvideos written and produced by Nancy Wight. And, for me, it includes the numerous friends and colleagues with whom I am in touch—sometimes frequently, sometimes sporadically, but always in ways that involve trust, respect, affection, and a sense that my life would be far less rich and fulfilling if they were not part of it.
Sheltering in place and engaging in social distancing has not in any way left me feeling socially isolated; I’m lucky to have “family” as committed to working at maintaining strong, positive relationships as I am. In a pre-coronavirus world, I frequently came across those family members while walking around San Francisco. Or sitting in any caffè that served as a meeting place for us. Or during business trips that gave me an excuse to work in various places around the United States. Or while attending onsite conferences. Or while engaged in online gatherings such as the biweekly recordings for Maurice Coleman’sT is for Training podcast or monthly meetings and webinars facilitated by members of the ShapingEDU family. Or via Slack…or…or…or…
Maintaining an overly busy schedule has often resulted in my stepping away from some of those “family” gatherings, as has been the case with my involvement—or lack thereof—with a first-rate family in the form of a magnificent community of learning: #lrnchat, a family that has been meeting weekly (Thursdays, 8:30 – 9:30 pm ET/5:30 – 6:30 pm PT) via Twitter, in the form of a well-facilitated tweet chat that always is centered around a pre-announced topic of interest to trainer-teacher-learner-doers. I have, occasionally, taken the time to reflect on and write about what that family means to me. But I fell out of the habit of participating in those weekly gatherings a couple of years ago when shifts in my work habits made those meetings much harder to squeeze into my schedule.
Although being lucky enough to stay very busy while following shelter-in-place guidelines, I have used this unusual period of time to re-examine how I spend my time, and one of the changes I have made is carving out time to dive back into my #lrnchat-family gatherings on a biweekly basis—on those weeks when T is for Training isn’t recording within part of that same time slot. And, as is always the case with family reunions, it has been a wonderful opportunity requiring very little transition. I just show up. Others continue to show up—or rejoin after similar periods of absence. We spend a few minutes with introductions and in-the-moment observations. Then we get down to the heart of what draws us together: interactions with those we love and admire. Listening to (or, since this all takes place as an online typed chat, reading) what other members of our family want to say and share. Responding—sometimes seriously, sometimes with tongues deeply in cheek, but always with curiosity and respect. And, most importantly of all, learning. Together. In ways that make us better than we were before the latest family conversation began. And, as a result, make us better at serving those who, in turn, look to us, for support in their own lifelong learning endeavors.
The conversations, facilitated by family heads Jane Bozarth, Tracy Parish, and David Kelly, always draw us in quickly. Engage us from start to finish. And leave us with important questions, including “what did you learn from this conversation?” and “what will you do with what you learned?” Those are critically important questions for any trainer-teacher-learner-doer, and, because of what I have learned over the years from my #lrnchat family, those are questions I put to every one of my co-conspirators in learning at the end of classes, workshops, webinars, and other learning opportunities I design and facilitate. They are questions that continue drawing me back to #lrnchat and my other families. They are fruitful questions to ask every day that we continue following shelter-in-place and social-distancing guidelines. And they are questions that, when asked, serve as fabulous reminders of why we cherish our families. All they offer. And whatever demands they place upon us and the limited time we have. For if we don’t have time for family, for whom do we have time?
There is no denying that playing and working in a variety of digital environments can sometimes feel akin to trying to drink out of a fire hose. There is also no denying that there’s another way to approach digital/online interactions: as if they produce magnificent waves well worth riding to a warm and welcoming shore—which pretty much describes the experiences I had riding rather than drowning in digital interactions last week as our ALA Editions four-week online course “Rethinking Digital Literacy” continued.
While the learners I am supporting—and have, as an extension of what I have learned elsewhere, begun referring to as my “co-conspirators” —spent the second of four weeks trying to define and determine ways to foster digital literacy among those we serve, I continued engaging in my own efforts to see where a blend of onsite and online interactions involving a wide range of friends and colleagues might take me—a tremendously satisfying exercise that culminated in a richly rewarding conversation with T is for Training colleagues at the end of the week.
Plenty of disparate elements had to come together for that particular wave to carry us all to shore, and they seemed to coalesce around a very specific digital-literacy skill: an ability to collaborate across numerous platforms and environments. The experience began early in the week as a local (San Francisco Bay Area) colleague (Clark Quinn), with whom I tend to interact more frequently online than face to face, was confirming lunch plans with me. Taking advantage of an hour-long trip via public transportation to reach Clark, I read several recent posts on his blog, where he consistently and engagingly addresses training-teaching-learning issues of interest to those of us working with adult learners in workplace learning and performance (staff training) settings. The punch line to one of his most recent posts—“…it’s not about content [in learning]. It’s about experience [in learning]. Are you designing experience?”—led to an intriguing conversation over lunch as I carried that online resource and inspiration into our face-to-face environment.
But it didn’t stop there: I sensed there was plenty more to explore, and suspected a perfect venue drawing upon our digital literacy skill of collaborating within digital environments was back in the online sandbox I share with colleagues through Maurice Coleman’s biweekly T is for Training conversation/podcast—a program designed for those of us involved in library training-teaching-learning efforts. When Maurice and our T colleague Jill Hurst-Wahl agreed that Clark’s post and the question regarding content vs. experience would be a great topic for discussion, I notified Clark to see if he wanted to join us; he and I also continued the conversation briefly via exchanges in the weekly #lrnchattweet chat (with an entirely different set of colleagues discussing tech trends) the night before the T is for Training was scheduled to take place.
Initially indicating he wouldn’t be available, Clark ultimately was able to join the conversation a few minutes after that episode of T began, and the results were every bit as stimulating as any of us might have hoped. A core group of the T “usual suspects” quickly welcomed Clark and interacted in ways that brought his non-library learning and development expertise to the forefront of the conversation; Clark, in turn, dove into the conversation in ways that helped him better understand how designing experiences in library training-teaching-learning efforts paralleled as well as differed from what he has seen elsewhere.
By the end of the hour-long exchange, many things were obvious. The cross-pollination that occurs through interactions among members of various online communities—particularly the kind of online connected-learning communities with which I’m familiar—can bring benefits to everyone involved. This variation on hyperlinked learning—comprised of playing, learning, telling stories, transparency, participation, harnessing user-generated content (in this case, Clark’s blog post), and making connections, as Michael Stephens has suggested—benefits tremendously from our willingness to carry a variety of approaches into our continually evolving and ever-increasing tech tools. This combination of cross-pollination and hyperlinked learning produces notable results, small and large: T, for example, may have picked up a new usual suspect (if Clark is able to join us for additional conversations); Clark may be continuing the conversation in an upcoming Learnlet post to carry it to a larger audience; I’m certainly continuing this set of explorations further via my own blog and a tweet chat I’ll join later this week with #etmooc (Educational Technology & Media massive open online course) colleagues; and I will carry it back to the learners/co-conspirators in Rethinking Digital Literacy in the hope they can use it with their own colleagues in a number of different countries.
Ultimately, this level of collaboration, designing learning experiences, and riding rather than drowning under waves of digital interactions and resources creates exactly the sort of learning experience I pictured when I read Clark’s blog post. More importantly, it supports our efforts to hone that very important digital-literacy skill of collaboration that, at its essence, supports the way we live, play, and work positively, creatively, and enthusiastically in a hyperlinked world.
“I am on a mission,” he tells us on the first page of the preface to the book. “The stuff I had railed against a decade ago was still in place. I was, quite frankly, pissed off. I decided that I simply had to make a stab at trying to address the problem….I am not temperate in this [first] section, I confess; on the contrary, I may be tarring with too broad a brush. I am not apologetic, believing it better to be too harsh and raise hackles than to have no impact. Reader beware.”
The issues he tackles are numerous—not the least of them being the inadequacy of the jargon we use. As Lori Reed and I noted in our own book (Workplace Learning & Leadership; ALA Editions, 2011), there are numerous terms used to describe the training-teaching-learning field and those playing in that field; each term, furthermore, overtly as well as subliminally affects the way we approach and engage in our work—which, of course, is why it’s important that we eventually find the right vocabulary: terms that not only accurately and concisely describe what we do, but also guide us toward successful efforts supporting our workplace colleagues and those they ultimately serve. One of the most visible and well-orchestrated recent attempts to update our vocabulary came a year ago when the American Society for Training & Development rebranded itself as the Association for Talent Development for many reasons—not the least of which was a desire to emphasize the result (developing the workplace “talent” of employees) rather than the process (i.e., training/learning). Quinn, whose book was co-published by Wiley and ASTD one month before the ASTD-to-ATD transformation was announced, suggests that we move from our industry jargon of “learning and development (L&D)” to “performance and development (P&D)” for the same reason: to place a focus on the results of our efforts (employee performance in the workplace) rather than the process leading to those results. Neither approach strikes me as completely satisfactory, for “talent development” as an industry descriptor then suggests the less-than-perfect and far-from-inspiring term “talent developer” (instead of “trainer” or “learning facilitator” or any other equally-inadequate term we might also incorporate into our lexicon to guide us in our work). I continue, in my own work, to use the less-than-perfect hyphenate “trainer-teacher-learner” to capture what I believe is a trinity of terms summarizing important facets of our work—but I quickly acknowledge that it misses one of the key attributes Quinn calls to our attention: a focus on what learners do with what they are learning. If workplace learning and performance is—as so many of us believe—a transformative process that should lead to positive action, then the words we use to describe it should also reflect and acknowledge the inherent goals driving the process.
When we move beyond the nomenclature and into the real focus of the first section of the book (“Status Quo”), we find that the author has taken a playful yet devastating approach to describing the state of our industry. The subheadings to Chapter 3 (“Our Industry”) seem to be the result of an effective game of free-association—one that helps make the case for joining the revolution: “inadequate”; “event-ful” (in the negative sense that learning opportunities are treated as isolated events rather than part of a larger learning process that produces positive results for learners, their organizations, and the customers/clients/patrons they ultimately serve); “disengaging”; “antisocial” (in the sense that they underutilize the social media tools that are so important a part of our workplace efforts); “rigid”; “mismeasured” (in the sense that evaluations don’t measure meaningful results from training-teaching-learning efforts); and “no credibility,” among others. If that isn’t enough to make us grab our pitchforks and burning brooms so we can storm and burn the antiquated castles of training/L&D/P&D, perhaps we need to check to see if any of us still has a pulse.
The book (and Quinn), of course, offer us far more than a pessimistic document that would leave us wanting to slit our training-teaching-learning wrists. His second section explores research-based evidence on how our brains react to and absorb learning opportunities—in contrast to what many of our current efforts actually provide—and reminds us that informal learning opportunities, the use of communities of learning, the use of existing resources rather than always seeking to design new workshops and courses, and recognition of the benefits of mobile learning as part of our learning landscape stand to produce far better results than we currently produce.
His section on aligning learning with workplace needs provides a great example of what he is attempting to foster: by incorporating case studies and reflections by several of his colleagues (including Jane Bozarth, Allison Rossett, and Marc Rosenberg—people familiar to us through our involvement with ATD, #lrnchat, the eLearning Guild, and other first-rate learning communities), he reminds us that even a book like Revolutionize Learning & Development can serve as a gathering place for colleagues to meet, talk, learn, reflect, and develop effective plans of action.
The final section (focusing on a “path forward”) works well with a short set of appendices to help us reflect on core competencies and practices that better position us to be part of a process of change within our workplace training-teaching-learning (and doing) efforts.
“This book is not a final answer,” Quinn says up front (p. xxiv). “There are answers in many of the component areas, but the integration is new, and a book is a limited endeavor.”
Trainer-teacher-learners, as I noted while facetiously promoting a game called Speed PowerPointing a few years ago, have a magnificent ability to transform challenges into learning innovations. That ability was on display again yesterday when new and returning members of the #lrnchat community engaged in our weekly (Thursdays, 8:30 pm ET/5:30 pm PT) tweet chat and, in the process, seemed to create a new format we might call “Macho Tweet Chatting.”
#lrnchat participants, as the community blog explains, “are people interested in the topic of learning from one another and who want to discuss how to help other people learn in formal, informal, social and mobile ways.” The weekly chats (originally 90 minutes, now 60 minutes) have a well-established format: begin with brief introductions; warm up by responding to a question about what we learned that day (or that week if we somehow went all day without learning something); respond to six inter-related questions on a pre-announced theme; and conclude by posting wrap-up tweets during which we re-introduce ourselves and are encouraged to engage in shameless acts of self-promotion (which usually help us learn what our colleagues are currently doing/promoting/producing). When the virtual smoke clears from those hour-long sessions, we find that we’ve taken approximately eight or nine minutes to respond to and build upon colleagues’ comments about each of those six questions.
But that wasn’t what we encountered when we joined a session on the topic of Persistence in Learning yesterday. The community organizers, with little explanation until we were well into the session, had decided to create lightning rounds by tossing 10 rather than six questions (in addition to the usual introductions, wrap-up, and what-did-you-learn questions) into the mix. It was only when someone asked why the chat seemed to be moving much more quickly than usual that we learned what was behind the innovation: those preparing the questions about persistence had difficulty in winnowing down the number of proposed questions, so they changed the format rather than eliminate thought-provoking content that would foster our learning process yesterday.
The usual format fosters numerous initial responses, some retweeting of those responses so that others not engaged in the live session have a glimpse of what our discussions produce, and a variety of playful offshoots as individual community members engage one-on-one before another question from the community moderators more or less draws us all back together into a somewhat cohesive online conversation. The increased number of questions within an unexpanded period of time simply upped the ante: we had to respond much more quickly than usual; we struggled to engage in the retweeting that is such a fundamental element of expanding the community into the larger communities in which each of us individually interacts; and the playful one-on-one side-conversations were even more frenetic than usual.
It was clear that this was the sort of learning opportunity that would require some after-class effort to fully appreciate what we experienced—and learned—via the lightning-round format. Immediately creating an initial stand-alone transcript via Storify rather than waiting for community moderators to post it on the blog later this week made it obvious to me that many of the tweets were shorter than usual. (I suspect that the 140-character ceiling on tweets was higher than many of us could reach given the time limits we faced in composing each tweet.) Skimming that transcript so soon after the session ended also made me realize how much more content I had missed than I normally do—and made me appreciate how helpful it was to have created a useful learning object in the form of a Storify document—rereading content provided plenty of valuable opportunities to continue benefiting from the wisdom of this particular crowd by luxuriating over some of the observations; laughing at some of the funnier exchanges; and relishing the sense of support upon which a community like #lrnchat is built and sustained.
A post-session reading also produced some insights that may not have been intended by those posting comments. When we see someone post “eyes glazing over” in response to a question about when it is better to surrender rather than persevere, for example, we can also retroactively read the comment as a reflection of the idea that some of us may have felt our eyes glazing over because of the fire-hose flood of information coming our way. When we see even one of our most agile, literate, and pithy colleagues acknowledge that “it’s hard to catch up on this fast-moving #lrnchat,” we’re reminded that in connected learning environments and connectivist massive open online courses (MOOCs), the best lesson learned is that it’s not actually necessary to “keep up”—learning is often about what we can and choose to absorb rather than being about what someone else wants us to absorb. And if we’re empathetic enough to carry our own frustration over not keeping up into an appreciation for the frustration overwhelmed learners feel, we’ve absorbed an important lesson through the experiential learning #lrnchat so frequently fosters. And when we re-read my own tongue-in-cheek suggestion that #lrnchat may need to adopt The Flash and Quicksilver as our mascots, we might also take the suggestion as a reminder that training-teaching-learning at times seems to require superpower-level skills.
What remains most encouraging and most important is that, at the end of the day (and the Macho Tweet Chat), those who stayed with it acknowledged how invigorating and—in the most positive of senses—challenging the session was. We came. We chatted. We laughed. We learned. And, in the best of all worlds, we experienced an exercise (and form of exercise) we may be able to share with some of our most advanced learners so all of us continue learning together.
Celebrating Connected Educator Month, for those of us involved in training-teaching-learning, is a bit like celebrating the existence of air: connections pump life into much of what we do, yet we often take them for granted rather than indulging in joyfully inclusive acknowledgement of what they produce.
What makes Connected Educator Month personal, furthermore, is the opportunity it provides to reflect on the connections that support and inspire us and those we serve, so here’s a challenge to colleagues near and far: post your own thoughts, in response to this article and Connected Educators Month in general, here on this blog as well as on your own blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and anywhere else that allows us to strengthen the connections that so effectively support us and make us so much better than we would be without them.
The multi-directional connectedness doesn’t even stop there; the more I look at each of these groups and opportunities, the more I realize how interconnected the various groups are. Participating in the #lrnchat session last night reminded me that #lrnchat includes members of the ASTD, #etmooc, and #xplrpln communities—and the frequent mention of the Personal Learning Networks course during the chat is leading more members of #lrnchat to join us in exploring what #xplrpln offers and is developing. Looking at the growing list of #xplrpln participants has introduced me to #etmooc participants I hadn’t met while #etmooc coursework was in progress. Looking at the list of colleagues in the Horizon Project in previous years brought the unexpectedly wonderful realization that it included a great colleague from the American Library Association. And diving into the current Horizon Project explorations of developments in personal learning networks obviously connects what I’m doing there and in the MOOC so that the learning opportunities flow both ways between those two communities.
There’s a distinct possibility that connectivism could become another of those buzz words that linger on the edge of our consciousness without ever developing into something tangible—at a human level—if we give it the proverbial fifteen minutes of fame/attention and then move on. Or it could become another element of an ever-increasing set of tools and resources that allow us to transcend geographic, occupational, and time-zone boundaries. In a world where we often bemoan the loss of community, we can just as easily celebrate its expansion. And that’s why Connected Educator Month seems, to me, to be a great opportunity to celebrate. Reflect. And grow.
While #etmooc draws together a worldwide group of trainer-teacher-learners interested in improving their ability to effectively and engagingly incorporate technology into the learning process, #lrnchat has the somewhat broader goal of serving as a community “for people interested in the topic of learning [and] who use the social messaging service Twitter to learn from one another and discuss how to help other people learn”; those first-rate #lrnchat organizers also routinely post session transcripts that in and of themselves are great learning resources for others involved in training-teaching learning.
Participants and discussion topics sometimes, as was the case this week, overlap in #etmchat and #lrnchat sessions in fortuitous ways. Those of us who joined the #etmchat session on Wednesday and then joined #lrnchat on Thursday were able see these two overlapping yet significantly different communities explore (and, in many ways, celebrate) the elements that have made both communities dynamically successful. (Stats posted this afternoon by #lrnchat colleague Bruno Winck, aka @brunowinck, suggest that the one-hour session produced 642 tweets and 264 retweets from a total of 79 participants.)
What was obviously common to both groups was the presence of strong, dedicated, highly-skilled facilitators who kept the conversations flowing, on topic, and open to the largest possible number of participants. There was also an obvious sense of respect and encouragement offered to newcomers as well as to those with long-term involvement—a willingness to listen as well as to contribute, and a commitment to extending the conversation to others not immediately involved. (Retweeting of comments was fairly common in both groups, indicating a commitment to sharing others’ comments rather than trying to dominate any part of the conversation solely through personal observations). What we continually see in both groups is an invitation to engage and a willingness to listen as well as contribute rather than the tendency to create and foster cliques that exists in less effective and less cohesive communities.
A sense of humor and a fair amount of humility also appears to support the high levels of engagement visible in both groups—those who are most inclined to offer the occasional ironic/sarcastic/snarky comment just as quickly turn those comments back on themselves to draw a laugh and make a point that contributes to the overall advancement of discussion—and learning—that both communities foster.
There also is more than a hint in both communities of creating learning objects through the transcripts and conversational excerpts (e.g., through the use of Storify) generated via these discussions. And that’s where some of the most significant results are produced, for embedded in those transcripts and excerpts are links to other learning resources that many of us may not have previously encountered.
Following those links during or after the conversations continues our own personal learning process and, as was the case with #lrnchat yesterday, actually produce something with the potential to last far longer than any single discussion session. One of those unexpectedly productive moments of community-sharing-in-action yesterday came when, from my desk here in San Francisco, I posted a link to a Wikipedia article about third places—that wonderful concept of the places outside of home and work that serve as “the heart of community” and the third places in our lives, as defined and described by Ray Oldenburg in The Great Good Place: Cafés, Coffee Shops, Bookstores, Bars, Hair Salons and Other Hangouts at the Heart of a Community (1989). A colleague in Melbourne (Helen Blunden), seeing that link, quickly followed it to familiarize herself with the concept, then realized that “Third Place” would serve nicely as the name for a new learning and development community she is currently forming in Melbourne—which means that when members of #3placemelb (Third Place Melbourne) interact online, they’ll be the latest offshoot of a learning tree with roots in Oldenburg’s book first published in 1989; a well-developed trunk that has branches representing a variety of settings, including libraries; and continues to sprout twigs in online virtual communities such as #etmooc and #lrnchat, blended (onsite-online) settings, and that latest growth in Melbourne—all because great communities seem to beget additional great communities through collaboration rather than competition.
N.B.: The #lrnchat sessions currently take place every Thursday from 8:30-9:30 pm EST/5:30-6:30 PST; #etmchat sessions are generally announced on Twitter via the #etmooc hashtag and are also promoted in the #etmooc Google+ community.
#etmooc is incredibly engaging and well organized—which makes it one of the best online learning experiences I’ve ever had—but there’s no avoiding the constant risk of drowning in the deluge if those of us actively participating in #etmooc are not diligent about managing our time and resources. There’s the main site itself; the blog hub that aggregates postings from nearly 500 course participants; several branches that lead us to other social media platforms (e.g., Twitter and Google+) where various discussions are carried on day and night; extended sessions that occur live and then are archived in Blackboard Collaborate; and numerous offshoots through links to online articles and other resources, including postings on YouTube. (When you’re among 14,000 learners who are distributed all over the world, there is no possibility of closing down the course for the night, so one of the many lessons learned through this education technology and media course is how to focus on what’s essential and to not worry about what we don’t have time to explore.)
Deciding to join the #etmooc weekly tweet chat yesterday afternoon initially didn’t seem to present much of a challenge. I logged into TweetChat so I’d be able to focus on nothing but the flow of #etmooc tweets, and set up my account to pull in anything tagged with the #etmooc identifier (the course hashtag). As the discussion began, I was struck by a couple of unexpected observations: the number of participants seemed alarmingly small given how many people are registered and participating in the course, and the moderator seemed to have set up an unnecessary extra step by referring us to a different site if we wanted to monitor the questions that were meant to seed the hour-long conversation. I was even more puzzled by that decision when the moderator mentioned another very popular and well-organized tweet chat (#lrnchat) as a model for the #etmooc session, yet wasn’t following the obvious #lrnchat practice of posting questions directly into the chat as it proceeded. Bouncing back and forth between the site with the questions and the TweetChat stream of comments wasn’t impossible, but it was a bit frustrating, so I actually started copying the questions into the live chat session in the hope that it would stimulate others to contribute more dynamically to the conversation.
But this just didn’t feel right in a course as well designed as #etmooc is. And it wasn’t right. Because in my haste to join the session, I had missed a notice on the #etmooc site providing the chat hashtag as #etmchat to differentiate it from the general course Twitter feed to be found at #etmooc. What finally tipped me off was noticing, nearly halfway into the session, that a few notes had both hashtags—which, of course, prompted me to change my TweetChat setting to #etmchat and immediately discover the flood of exchanges I’d been expecting from the beginning.
Making that quick virtual leap from a meandering stream to a raging river of tweets was, to say the least, temporarily disorienting. And there was no way, given the flow of words, to review what had come before if I wanted to keep up with what was yet to come. So I took the plunge, joined the larger conversation, and had 30 minutes of exchanges with colleagues worldwide on the topic we’re currently studying: digital storytelling.
By the time the session reached its conclusion, I had made a few wonderful new connections. Learned an incredible amount on the topic under discussion. And received a very important reminder regarding a key element of online learning: don’t forget to read the details in online postings if you don’t want to end up floating on a stream via the wrong hashtag when a river of information is just a virtual stone’s throw away.
N.B.: This is the fifth in a series of posts responding to the assignments and explorations fostered through #etmooc; it also serves as another example of digital storytelling.
When the writers tell us that “a competent community has three properties” (they focus on the gifts of its members, they nurture associational life, and they offer hospitality through the act of welcoming strangers into their group), we immediately can picture any ASTD or any other well-organized and well-developed association that creates a potent, supportive, and dynamic community through individual chapters, informal regional consortia, and national connections firmly rooted in commonly-adopted mission, vision, and value statements.
This, for anyone engaged in a well-functioning association, is the best of all possible reminders of how abundant our communities are and can be in an onsite-online world. When we’re together—together in every sense of the word—our limitations and challenges somehow take a back seat to the benefits we reap from associating in these abundant communities: full of inspiration; full of colleagues dedicated, as ASTD suggests, to making a world that works better; and full of solutions to problems none of us would dream of tackling without the support of other members of those explicitly abundant communities.
And just as McKnight and Block consistently focus on an abundant community’s ability to awaken the power of family and neighborhoods, members of ASTD and other first-rate associations use their strengths and resources to contribute positively and significantly to the extended communities to which they belong and which they serve. California ASTD chapters, for example, are among those informally providing free learning opportunities to returning veterans under the aegis of programs that support Wounded Warriors; having documented initial successes from this sharing of what they bring to their communities, some of the California chapter leaders are beginning to explore ways to create a more formal consortium to expand what they had previously been doing completely at a local level independent of colleagues from other chapters—a great sign that this particular abundant community is pooling resources in a way that creates greater possibilities while also drawing more attention to ASTD, its chapters, and its individual members as potential community partners reaching beyond more local borders.
None of this, however, matters much if our community doesn’t carry through on its commitment to be as permeable as possible. When we are greeted, welcomed, and drawn into conversation the moment we walk into an ASTD gathering, we sense the draw and engagement of an abundant community: it makes us want to join the club. This doesn’t mean that every person entering our community will ultimately want to serve on a board of directors or become a major financial supporter of the organization’s activities, but what makes us strong is our willingness to accept all interested parties at whatever level is comfortable to them: occasional visitor, member of a local chapter, dual member of the local and national organization, member of a local chapter board, member of a national committee of volunteers dedicated to strengthening and promoting the organization throughout its extended community, and former board member who remains engaged at any sort of level that contributes to the continuity of the association.
And that, I would suggest, is the key element and resource that contributes to the success of an abundant community—one capable of holding our attention and setting up the continuity that creates something capable of outlasting the efforts and lifetime of any individual member.
I already had quite a few friends and colleagues in the world of training-teaching-learning a couple of weeks ago. Now the social fabric that sustains me has grown quite substantially. Let’s credit the backchannel for this change. Then think about what that backchannel could mean to you and all you serve.
As is the case with any form of effective training-teaching-learning, those conference interactions flourish through planning before the learning event/conference begins (someone has to create the Twitter hashtag that draws us all together); active participation during the event (the more you give, the more you receive); and sustainable long-term attention that continues far beyond the days a learning opportunity/conference brings us all together (following and contributing to the backchannel after the conference ends keeps this virtual social learning center alive and vibrant).
An effective backchannel, as I wrote in an earlier article, works at many levels. It connects those who might otherwise be separated by the smallest as well as the largest of physical distances. It fosters a form of mobile learning (m-learning) in that what we’re learning is disseminated to an even larger group of learners. It is increasingly providing a delightfully accessible tool that can as easily facilitate and augment the learning process in academic settings as it can in workplace learning and performance (staff training) endeavors.
On the other hand, it carries the potential to completely disrupt a presenter-teacher-trainer’s presentation. This is where Atkinson’s book on the backchannel comes into play invaluably. A guide every bit as appealing and potentially influential in the world of backchannel learning as his Beyond Bullet Points remains for onsite-online presentations, The Backchannel entices us into the subject immediately through a chapter carrying the title “Why Are You Calling Me a #@*% on Twitter?” and helps us see how a tweeter with a large following (nearly 15,000 people as I’m writing this) and a well-known presenter clashed quite publicly when the presenter saw the tweeter’s note with her derogatory remark about him. (For the record, she called him “a total dick,” and he decided to confront her face-to-face, while the presentation was still underway, by asking “What…what is my dickiness?”)
If you already sense that Atkinson’s mastery of storytelling and training is a wonderful talent to see in action, you’re well on the way to understanding that his book has something for each of us regardless of whether we’re new to the backchannel or already fairly comfortable in that rapidly-flowing stream of words and thoughts and resources. He shows us how to join a backchannel. Entertainingly reviews the rewards and risks of backchannel engagement with copious amounts of screenshots to lead us down that path. Offers presentation tips to make us more effective in our use of Twitter and its backchannels. And leads us through the process of effectively dealing with those dreaded-yet-inevitable moments when a backchannel becomes dangerous.
By the time we finish racing through this book and absorbing what we can—I suspect I’ll be rereading this one at least a few times— we’re far more comfortable with and appreciative of all that backchannels offer, and much more aware of how to be effective and civil members of the Twitterverse and its various interconnected streams. We’re richer for having explored and reflected upon the online resources supporting the book, e.g., his “Negotiating a Backchannel Agreement.” And we’re appreciative for what our own levels of involvement in backchannels returns to us.
Through the #ASTD2012 backchannel and subsequent online interactions including the #lrnchat session on May 17, 2012 , I came away from a conference with 9,000 attendees much richer at a deeply personal and professional level than I was two weeks ago. Through their confrontation and subsequent discussion, the tweeter and the presenter in Atkinson’s book walked away with their differences resolved. And you—yes, you—may end up finding your own rewards and satisfactions there the moment you are prepared to take the plunge into the backchannel/The Backchannel.
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.
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.
Celebrating Life. Making positive connections and collaborating with people from around the world. Living everyday with positive energy, possibility, passion and peace of mind. Learning from a School Counsellor lens. I'm not a Counsellor because I want to make a living. I am a Counsellor because I want to make a difference. Gratitude for ETMOOC roots.