Promoting Universal Broadband Access With Gina Millsap (Part 2 of 2)

March 23, 2021

This is the second part of a two-part interview conducted with Gina Millsap, retired Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library (TSCPL) CEO and a longtime advocate of broadband access for work and learning. An article drawn from the interview is available on the ShapingEDU blog.

In your article “We All Need Broadband” [April 7, 2020], you mentioned that “some parts of our community don’t have quality, affordable broadband, especially in the rural areas of Shawnee County.” I’ve always been impressed by how you and your colleagues responded to community needs by setting up an entire online branch of the library to serve those who, living in rural parts of your service area, couldn’t easily visit a physical library building. Can you tell a story that shows how you and your colleagues overcame some of the challenges of Internet access to provide those online services?

There are a few things. TSCPL equipped bookmobiles as hot spots and has been providing technology training for the community for well over 20 years. What is somewhat discouraging is that the “Taming the Mouse” class is still offered. I say that because it’s still needed. And TSCPL installed about 170 public access computers in the early 2000s to ensure that people had the access they needed to communicate, apply for jobs, learn more about technology tools, and provide themselves with entertainment. I have become less enamored of these stopgap measures in the past few years. That’s because I think they’ve allowed other community leaders to think, “The library has this covered, so we don’t have to worry about it.”

So, a question—are you asking about challenges the library faced? Honestly, the big challenge for many libraries were two-fold: did they have the money to upgrade their technology and broadband services as needed and to invest in technology? Did they have the staff expertise to manage that technology and help educate their communities? TSCPL had both, and chose to make those investments. Many libraries didn’t have the resources to do that. 

Makes sense to me; thanks. Whose work in fostering broadband access do you admire—and why?

I’m appreciative of the work that SHLB [Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband Coalition] is doing and the fact that they are developing a strong coalition of key partners. They are giving a voice to public-sector needs that hasn’t existed before. I’m also appreciative of the work ULC [Urban Libraries Council] is doing with its Digital Equity Action Team that is working to educate and encourage library leaders to do more in this space than be service providers for the have-nots in our communities. There are a number of individual libraries in the U.S. and Canada that are engaged in excellent work—many of them as part of community coalitions. I’m more interested in those activities and think they will have a greater long-term impact than continuing to provide short-term services like circulating hot spots. Note I’m not dissing those efforts. Those are important because they are addressing immediate needs, but they’re not solutions. 

Drawing upon your extensive experience, what would you suggest individuals can do to support broadband access locally, regionally, and nationally?

They should become advocates for universal broadband. They should hold their local- and state-elected officials accountable for improving access to broadband for all residents. They should participate in the reframing of this discussion as one of social equity, not technology. Thank the community leaders that are showing an interest, support them. Learn more about the issues—the technology, the legislation, the players in the public and private sectors. 

What have I not asked that you hoped to cover?

I think the main thing is that this is a community, state, and national issue. It’s not about consumerism, or not exclusively about that. It’s about ensuring all citizens have the tools they need to thrive in their communities. I also don’t want to appear as if I’m viewing the service providers as the antagonists, although that can happen—especially if municipalities are considering becoming providers. It’s going to take strong public/private partnerships to make this happen, but elected officials must be knowledgeable enough to write better laws, and visionary enough to understand that, like roads, electricity, and water, broadband should be viewed as essential infrastructure.

N.B. — Paul is one of three Storytellers in Residence for ShapingEDU (July 2020-June 2021).


Promoting Universal Broadband Access With Gina Millsap (Part 1 of 2)

March 23, 2021

This is the first part of a two-part interview conducted with Gina Millsap, retired Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library (TSCPL) CEO and a longtime advocate of broadband access for work and learning. An article drawn from the interview is available on the ShapingEDU blog.

Our friend Maurice Coleman [a keynote speaker, trainer, and facilitator who also serves as host for the T is for Training podcast] has said that advocates and activists don’t necessarily “start out wanting to change the world. They usually start out wanting to change this…that one situation.” What was that “one situation” that first drew you to efforts to support universal broadband access and access to the tools needed to effectively use the Internet for work and learning?”

It actually started for me in the early 1990s, when I had the opportunity to work on the COIN (Columbia (MO) Online Information Network) project. It was the first ISP in the state of Missouri and was a collaboration of the University of Missouri, the City of Columbia, Boone County, the local school district, and the library I worked for—the Daniel Boone Regional Library. I was head of computer services for the library and also became the head of technical and end-user support for COIN because my library had the management contract for it. I saw, very early on, the power of shared online communication and information with community networking and what it could mean for public libraries, local government, and the community. Later, we included small private telephone companies who were often willing to let us locate modem pools in their facilities and whose owners could see the potential of the Internet before the big service providers figured out how to make money on it. 

Can you tell a story that shows how lack of broadband access or lack of access to the tools needed to effectively use the Internet for work and learning made this personal for you or someone close to you?

When libraries first introduced access to computers and then to the Internet, it became clear that there was and would be a huge divide in our communities and in this country—those who had access to technology and those who didn’t. The phrase “digital divide” is pretty hackneyed now, but when I saw how many people engaged with the library for the first time, it was an epiphany for me. I still remember a gentleman in his eighties—Mr. Belcher. His son lived and worked in Japan, but he was seldom able to connect with him because long distance calls were so expensive. When COIN went live, he was one of the first people to sign up. He had a Radio Shack computer with a 300 baud modem. He would call me with updates on how he could communicate via email on a daily basis with his son. It literally changed his life. 

Also, when I realized that no matter how many computers we installed in libraries, in the ‘90s and early 2000s, it wasn’t going to be enough, especially when PCs were so expensive and complicated. So it wasn’t just one story, it was how people saw this, wanted it, and ultimately needed it. It also continued and strengthened the equity work of public libraries. One of the reasons I’ve worked on broadband planning and advocacy so much in the past few years is a concern that libraries have inadvertently contributed to the digital inequity with the investments we make in digital content that isn’t available to those who aren’t digitally literate or who can’t afford the equipment or broadband services. The pandemic put a harsh spotlight on how flawed our systems are and how inequitable they are. 

That raises an immediate question: what are some of those flaws and inequalities? 

From my perspective, the flaws are attributable to the fact that local governments (and many states) haven’t owned this issue. Most of them have left it to the providers, whose business plans don’t align with all community needs. So, the gaps caused by where you live, how much money you have, how technologically adept you are keep getting bigger. I think internet should probably be regulated like a utility and the goal should be universal access.

Public libraries tend to be gap fillers. By that, I mean that needs like access to devices and broadband, have been left to that one institution while it should be a goal for all residents. There’s also a huge need for technology literacy. Even students who have grown up with computers aren’t necessarily information literate. We’ve focused so much on the technology that we’ve neglected what should accompany the use of these tools—critical-thinking skills, civic engagement, and understanding of what it means to participate in a democracy. The tools have become the endgame instead of a means to an end.

There also needs to be more action at the federal level—and I don’t mean just throwing more money at the big legacy providers who own all the fiber networks.

How can we work together to overcome the flaws and inequalities you’re noting here?

Planning and evaluation of the quality of services should be community-based. People need to be viewed as more than consumers. Part of our job as citizens is to participate in our communities, our country. To do that effectively, you need equitable access to the tools. So part of it is reframing this discussion to talk about investing in ourselves and our democracy instead of just upgrading to the latest Apple watch or Samsung phone. 

N.B. — Paul is one of three Storytellers in Residence for ShapingEDU (July 2020-June 2021).


Adapting to Change, Loss, and Possibilities: Virtual Collaborative Learning (and Doing) With ShapingEDU

October 16, 2020

Suzanne Lipsett, a writer I very much admired, insisted at the beginning of Surviving a Writer’s Life that what we do with our experiences—i.e., write about them—is as important as having those experiences in the first place.

Living and then sharing our lived experiences through storytelling is at the heart of the communities I most adore. I see it in my continuing interactions with colleagues in the #etmooc and #lrnchat communities. I consistently look forward to it within the context of the biweekly gatherings of Maurice Coleman’s T is for Training podcast community. It’s what keeps me connected to Jonathan Nalder’s FutureWe community. And it is an idea that resurfaced for me earlier this week—and, of course made me immediately want to write about it—when members of one of those communities (ShapingEDU) released a free online “Toolkit for Producing Collaborative Events to Shape the Future,” the third in a continuing series of online publications that celebrate what we accomplish together by documenting those successes.

Formally (and playfully) titled ASU [Arizona State University] ShapingED-YOU!, the ASU ShapingEDU toolkit follows the pattern employed in the earlier online resources: Stakeholder Inclusion Framework, an online inclusivity and access resource jointly produced with the Penn State CoAction Learning Lab to help those involved in the technology planning process, and a second ShapingEDU/CoAction Learning Lab collaborative resource, Building Effective Communities of Practice, which included contributions from more than 20 co-authors drawn from the ShapingEDU community and working together—often asynchronously—online. The publications, like the community itself, are dynamic examples of the commitment to playfulness and collaboration that runs through and nourishes this community of “dreamers, doers, and drivers shaping the future of learning in the Digital Age.”

More importantly, the publications and the ongoing work produced through ShapingEDU are tremendous, positive examples of how some communities entered this social-distancing/sheltering-in-place/pandemic-plagued world creatively and positively and continue to thrive in spite of the tremendous challenges and tragedies we face every day. Thriving because of the commitment to positive action. To creativity. To playfulness. To collaboration. And to looking forward to creating a new and better future without ignoring a far-from-perfect past and present.

A glance at the table of contents for ASU ShapingED-YOU! sets the tenor for what awaits you. The publication begins with an introduction to this “value-led,” “action-oriented,” “community-driven” community’s work, and then focuses on two of the community’s most engaging, productive gatherings: the annual “unconference” which began as a yearly face-to-face working session to dream and drive and do before switching, in the middle of the 2020 unconference, to an online working session/virtual conference, and the newly-established online Learning(Hu)Man weeklong campy summer camp for teacher-trainer-learners exploring concrete possibilities for shaping the future of learning.

And that’s where the entire endeavor becomes tremendously, wonderfully, twistingly “meta” in the sense that the events themselves become examples of how creative blended communities can and are thriving as much because of the challenges they face as because of their commitment to exploring and addressing those challenges. Using both events as case studies, the writers of the toolkit begin with four “top tips”: “Identify your North Stars” in terms of what those guiding stars are for your event; “Foster Interaction” by creating “spaces and mechanisms for community members to connect”—connections are the center of the ShapingEDU universe; “Set Everyone up for Success” by setting expectations and making every possible effort to “empower the community with resources, templates, support systems and clear instructions”; and “Tell Your Story…though focused emails, social media, and multimedia” along with graphic facilitation as “a co-creation tool.”

The case study centered around the unconferences takes us engagingly through the process of setting the stage through interactive exercises before the events even begin: community members submitting questions/suggestions, community members being invited to serve as event participants/designers/facilitators—and much more. The importance of fostering high levels of face-to-face and/or online interactions that are meaningful to participants and conducive to achieving the concrete goals the gatherings are designed to pursue. And the need to end the gatherings with a significant, community-developed catalyzing action (e.g., a communique that serves as a roadmap for continuing collaboration) that offers everyone a clear view of how the event fits into the community’s long-term, results-oriented work.

Moving into the theme of “community camp” as a way to energize changemakers and catalyze action, the Learning(Hu)Man virtual summer camp becomes another inspiring story for any teacher-trainer-learner seeking ways to creatively foster productive, positive learning experiences within the learning communities we serve. The combination of tips, photos, screenshots, and descriptions provides a concise roadmap that can easily be adapted for use by a variety of educator-trainer-learning activists.

And, in the spirt of collaboration and resource-sharing that is at the heart of this publication, it concludes with an invitation to contact ShapingEDU community members for further information and opportunities for collaboration—which is, when you think about it, the greatest gift of all to anyone struggling to survive and thrive in a rapidly-changing topsy-turvy pandemic-driven world.

–N.B.: 1) This is the twenty-second in a series of reflections inspired by coronavirus/ shelter-in-place experiences. 2) Paul is serving as one of three Storytellers in Residence for ShapingEDU (July 2020-June 2021), which includes producing articles for the ShapingEDU blog.


Adapting to Change, Loss, and Possibilities: Rejoining Our Families

May 15, 2020

“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 Living videos 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’s T 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?

–N.B.: This is the tenth in a series of reflections inspired by colleagues’ reactions to the coronavirus and shelter-in-place experiences and our continuing interactions online.


T is for Training: Innovator’s Mindset, Instagram, and Trolls

February 14, 2020

Empathetic, problem finder-solver, risk-taker, networked, observant, creator, resilient, reflective: eight characteristics of The Innovator’s Mindset. And eight terms that could easily have been applied to Maurice Coleman during the recording of the latest episode of his long-running, biweekly T is for Training podcast last night.

The podcast—designed for anyone interested or involved in training-teaching-learning in libraries (and a variety of other learning venues)—wasn’t perfect last night. But that’s OK; like the learning that T is for Training so often explores and fosters through playful hour-long discussions among a core group of participants and an occasional guest, the podcast is not meant to be perfect. (If you decide to listen to the latest episode, you can skip the first three minutes and join it at the four-minute mark to dive right into the discussion.) It was, however, a great example of the topics under consideration: the book Innovate Inside the Box: Empowering Learners Through UDL [Universal Design for Learning]and the Innovator’s Mindset (by George Couros and Katie Novak) and the innovatively engaging Innovate Inside the Box (IITB) Instagram Book Study group is inspired—where Instagram became the platform for the core of the discussions.

With just two of us—Maurice and me—initially participating in the recording, we worked our way through some technical problems we were having with the podcast software during the first few minutes of the recording (resilient!…and grumpy, although that’s not one of the eight characteristics we were exploring). And, after those first few less-than-perfect moments, we began with a quick summary of the content of the book before exploring how the online book study group functioned and produced some interesting learning experiences and results…and the beginning of a potentially dynamic new community of learning.

he risk-taker element of the endeavor is that T is for Training is live and open to anyone who wants to call in—which means we often have some lively discussions, and occasionally find ourselves visited by that awful beast known as a troll. That, as you correctly assumed by reading the title of this post, is what happened about a third of the way through the recording last night. Maurice, always willing to engage in a bit of empathy, gave the troll a couple of (mercifully brief) opportunities to actually rise to the challenge of contributing positively to the conversation. Displayed resilience by bouncing back quickly from each interruption this somewhat persistent troll attempted to create. And ultimately engaged in another session of our favorite podcast pastime—whack a troll. The conversation ultimately continued, successfully, as if nothing had ever happened (problem found, problem solved).

Moving into a discussion of the Instagram book study group, we found ourselves doing far more than simply reviewing what it produced in terms of learning; innovation; products (e.g., the Instagram posts, tweets, and blog pieces) made by the creators who were participating in the group; and reflections. We were (occasionally) reflective, and networking came into it through mentions of T is for Training community members who were not present for the recording but will ultimately be part of that episode when they listen and respond to the content we managed to create. The role of creator, furthermore, is on display because the recording and dissemination of that episode of the podcast is becoming another contribution to the community initiated through the Instagram book study group and continuing on Instagram (and elsewhere) under the general #InnovateInsideTheBox hashtag.

For me, the real punchline here is that T is for Training has just been drawn into yet another rhizomatically-expanding community of learning—one that includes the Instagram Book Study group, the #InnovateInsideTheBox Instagram/Twitter/Facebook collaborations, the blog postings several of us have created in response to what we have encountered in the book as well as in the online conversations, and others yet to be determined. It’s one of the characteristics of the Innovator’s Mindset (networked); the best trainer-teacher-learners I have met and with whom I regularly interact; and the T is for Training community itself. And the best news of all is that you’re welcome to join any part of it, at any time, if you want to explore and nurture your own Innovator’s Mindset.

–N.B.: T is for Training generally records every other Thursday evening at 9 pm ET/6 pm PT. More information is available on the podcast website.


Changing the World With Maurice Coleman (Part 2 of 2)  

December 13, 2018

This is the second part of a two-part interview conducted with Maurice Coleman, Creator/Executive Producer/Host for the long-running T is for Training biweekly podcast, for my book Change the World Using Social Media (Rowman & Littlefield; to be published in 2019). The interview was conducted online using a shared Google Doc, and has been lightly edited.

 

Maurice Coleman, ALA 2018 Annual Conference

You clearly have strong, positive thoughts about the state of training-teaching-learning-doing in libraries. How does your continual fostering of the community of learning at the heart of T is for Training pay off for you and those you serve in your own library, community, and larger community of learning that extends through the American Library Association, Library Information & Technology Association division, and other parts of your learning environment?

Because of the show and conversations related to it, I am better at my job than I would be without it. The show is my training, continuing education, and master class. I know more about various aspects of my profession than sometimes I want to remember that I know. Also, I can bounce new ideas or steal great ones from the folks who appear on the show. In fact, just today, someone was looking at my office door where I have the “future literacies” graphic [from Jonathan Nalder’s FutureWe project] affixed and thought it an interesting concept. I would have been able to sort of explain the concept about various skills needed in the future, but just the graphic and conversation with our friend in Australia [Nalder] was insightful and incredible and that would not have happened without the T is for Training network in general and Paul Signorelli in particular.

What a wonderful expression of the global nature of the community you’ve fostered through T is for Training—and how the collaborative nature of that community connects a project like Jonathan’s with what you are doing here in the United States.

Let’s shift gears and go under the hood a bit for the benefit of those who don’t know how to start. What led to your decision to use TalkShoe as the platform for the podcast?

Because the show that inspired T is for Training, Uncontrolled Vocabulary, used it and it allowed folks to participate without using a computer—with just a phone call. Now is it way easier to participate on the show in front of a computer? Yes—but I have had folks just call from their car and still be able to actively participate in the show, which is a bonus. Also, it does all of the recording generating work and all of the work sending it to iTunes in the background, so I don’t have to worry about it. At this point, I am too lazy to move, unless there was—knock wood—some catastrophe at TalkShoe—then I would be hosed. I should probably download all the episodes……Hmm….[editor’s note: the hypothetical catastrophe actually occurred shortly after this interview was completed in spring 2018; T is for Training episodes recorded before 2015 disappeared from the TalkShoe server.]

Yes, please; was just going to ask about your current back-up for the archives, but already see the answer.

On a related topic (in terms of setting up): what would you recommend in terms of equipment and setting for the recordings of a podcast?

I record live episodes via a phone connection, so if you can, use a headset. It is way more comfortable than holding a phone up to your head for an hour. That goes even for a non-cell call.  Try to find someplace with few disturbances to set up to start the show. If you use TalkShoe or some other similar service, you may or may not have an open chat to monitor, and will need to have a computer set up to do so.

If you are recording the podcast, then editing the podcast, then putting it somewhere for folks to find, you can do it for not-too-much money. Even basic smart phones can record and create a sound file you can upload somewhere for someone to find it.

When I do that method of recording for future use, I use a computer with Audacity to capture and edit the sound recording, and use a microphone, by the Blue corporation, called a Snowball. You can also use the Blue Yeti. They are both good microphones for around 100 or so dollars and plug directly into your computer to create your recording. I know other podcasters use Apple-based products to record and edit their podcasts. I encourage you out there to ask your favorite podcaster, “Hey, what do you use to record your show?” and they can tell you their set-up.

Any other advice for anyone considering the use of podcasting to help foster positive social change?

Be honest, real. Start small and start with what you have—most importantly, your good friends and colleagues. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and hang on for the ride.

N.B. — Paul is currently writing Change the World Using Social Mediascheduled for publication by Rowman & Littlefield in 2020. This is the seventeenth in a continuing series of excerpts from and interviews for the manuscript in progress.


Changing the World With Maurice Coleman (Part 1 of 2)

December 13, 2018

This is the first part of a two-part interview conducted with Maurice Coleman, Creator/Executive Producer/Host for the long-running T is for Training biweekly podcast, for my book Change the World Using Social Media (Rowman & Littlefield; to be published in 2019). The interview was conducted online using a shared Google Doc, and has been lightly edited.

 

Maurice Coleman

What would you suggest to anyone who is just beginning to look at podcasting as a way of helping foster positive social change?

The usual.  Be yourself.  Be honest.  And though it may sound trite, be real. You may have to do some self-promotion in order to reach a larger audience. Also, don’t be surprised if your work reaches further than you can imagine.

What initially motivated you to move into podcasting?

I wanted to replicate the vibe and comradery I felt at conferences where I was surrounded with brilliant members of my “tribe” of trainers, computer folks and other gear/nerd/cool folk heads. I wanted that all of the time—not just a couple of times of the year if I was lucky, so, I took from a friend’s podcast and said, “Why not me?” That was 2008, and we have been going strong ever since.

When I went back to listen to the earliest episodes, I left with the feeling that everyone was just sort of wondering how to proceed and whether it would actually work. How long did it take for things to click for you and those you reach through T is for Training?  

I think it was the Christmas/year-end episode when Guest Host Emeritus Stephanie Zimmerman sang the T is for Training song. That is the “well, damn” moment. Also, people kept coming back to the show. Then someone nominated me for a Library Journal “Mover and Shaker” award in 2010, and that was additional validation that I knew what the heck I was doing—though I didn’t really need the validation, because I did the show for my personal benefit and anything else was gravy. Awesome gravy, but gravy still. I was also lucky to have the support of my library—and, specifically, my boss and director at the time—to do this during work hours. We believe in professional development, and my podcast continues to be a great source of my professional development.

When we were together recently, you said “People don’t start out wanting to change the world. They usually start out wanting to change this…this one situation.” Is there an identifiable moment when you went from doing the show for your personal benefit to doing it because you realized it was having a positive change on the face of training-teaching-learning-doing in the industry you serve?

Maybe personal benefit is the wrong phrasing, but it is close enough. I always feel a responsibility for keeping this ship going, and it was always both personal benefit and for the benefit of others. When I did the first show, I asked them by email if this was worth their time.  They all said yes and also came back, so, from the beginning, I knew that others wanted someplace where they could be amongst colleagues on a regular basis who shared their struggles and triumphs and knowledge around training and learning. Back then, trainers in libraries were this either weirdly-placed position in either HR [Human Resources] or IT [Information Technology], or it was someone’s second job in the system. And you were usually the only one. So, if you wanted to bounce ideas off of someone, you had to reach out outside of your system to find someone who knew your specific job stuff.  T is for Training provided and still provides that forum—I hope. Honestly, every week, I am surprised folks come back.

As one of your “usual suspects,” I see T is for Training in many ways: a podcast, a forum, a community of learners/community of learning, a virtual water cooler, a lab where ideas take shape and spread. Can you think of an example of a situation where something that happened on the podcast transformed, in a positive way, those involved in the recording to someone who listened to an archived recording?

Good lord. Maybe I think of the discussion we had yeaaaaars ago about libraries as more than book archives. We talked about the various places and the library as fourth place [libraries as social learning centers]. Did the Computers in Libraries conference presentation about it. And, about the same time, that became the prevalent library design and management thought—to provide those services thinking of the library as a community center providing rich life experience outside of traditional book-/author- based stuff.

While I am sure others can think of other things, that is what sticks out in my mind. I am somewhat oblivious to that larger ripple effect, and always hope the podcast did, can, and will help folks make their situation—no matter how they define situation—better for them, their family, their library, and their community.

As you know, I’ve been exploring and been fascinated for years by the idea that our way of carrying on conversations has changed out from under us as a result of how conversations extend across great periods of time and across multiple platforms. An example: we talk about something on T is for Training (e.g., libraries as a newly-defined fourth place), then continue that on Twitter or Facebook, months later face to face, and months or years later in a typed-chat conversation like this. How does that affect the work activists attempt to do by incorporating social media tools into their overall social-media toolkit?

Use anything and everything you have the energy and time to use. Always remember that the conversation is ongoing even if you are not directly participating in what it is now. Also, do that interview, share that story, wherever and whenever you can. Always stick to your talking points if you are doing an interview. Always pull the question back to why you are there or reject the premise of the question itself and bring it back to your needs. Use [social] media as your tool to get your message out to folks, not be used as a fad or a media sock-puppet.

Also, you don’t have to do it all yourself. You have friends and colleagues and acquaintances. Ask them to help. A message said many times, from many sources, is usually heard.

N.B. — Paul is currently writing Change the World Using Social Mediascheduled for publication by Rowman & Littlefield in 2020. This is the sixteenth in a continuing series of excerpts from and interviews for the manuscript in progress.


Changing Ourselves as We Try to Change the World Through Social Media

January 2, 2018

Change often starts small, with the most simple, innocuous of acts. For some of us, it was our reaction to the news that a Minneapolis Public Schools administrator, DeRay Mckesson, had driven from Minneapolis to Ferguson to witness and document what was happening in Ferguson in the aftermath of the shooting of Michael Brown by a member of the Ferguson Police Department in 2014. We had been reading about shootings of fellow citizens who were African-Americans—by members of our police departments, by private citizens who felt threatened by the presence of a young men like Trayvon Martin because those citizens were Black. We were—and continue to be—increasingly horrified by what we were and are seeing in “post-racial” America.

DeRay Mckesson, from Wikimedia Commons

When McKesson began reporting from Ferguson, via Twitter, we recognized that something had changed significantly. In addition to all the other forms of media that provided first-rate, reliable information about critically important issues we were facing, we now had an ever-increasing level of access to and involvement in defining, reacting to, and seeking information about and solutions to those issues. This was raw and visceral—far beyond the polished, often pseudo-objective reporting that comes from our cherished mainstream-media representatives. We were experiencing and willingly joining multi-level, non-curated, expansive reports and conversations and calls to action through Twitter, Facebook, blogs, podcasts, and other online resources. Social media was not completely replacing one-way broadcast media including newspaper, radio, and television as important, significant, much-needed primary sources of information; those resources remain the meat and potatoes of information-gathering at a time when we struggle to distinguish between fake news and reliable reporting. On the other hand, social media tools were increasingly adding an important, dynamic, potentially world-changing element to our conversations and our perceptions about our world, how we interact with it, and how we might attempt to change it in positive ways.

Those already familiar with Twitter and other social media platforms need only glance at the most cursory list of the hashtags to become aware of the scope of our conversations and the way that the use of hashtags is making action-based conversation easier for even the most inexperienced of activists:

#BlackLivesMatter, #Brexit, #BringBackOurGirls, #DACA, #Dreamers, #Ferguson, #GunSense, #HealthReform, #MeToo, #NODAPL, #NotOneMore, #NotInOurName, #OccupyWallStreet, #ParisAccord

Let us make no mistake about it: This is a deeply personal, highly transformative level of change to some of us. It began changing the way we used and viewed social media tools including Facebook and Twitter. We began initiating conversations that we previously thought of as being too risky for online conversations; our shift came out of a decision that avoiding those online conversations that exposed and forced us to confront some of our deepest differences was far more risky than not exposing and confronting them. We openly reached out to friends and colleagues whose experiences and political beliefs differed tremendously from our own. We sought to listen, to learn, to find common ground, and to attempt to produce positive change in response to the difficult and often painful challenges that so often seemed to irrevocably separate us.

At times, our tongue-in-cheek approach (e.g., my own promotion and use of the hashtag #MakeAmericaCivilAgain in response to the disgustingly uncivil nature of discourse that was on full display during the Presidential election campaign in 2016) produced surprisingly encouraging results: colleagues from all walks of life found common ground in the idea that promoting civility in our interactions would be a great first step in trying to address some of our most wicked problems. We also realized that incorporating humor into our discussion was an important element in trying to re-civilize our exchanges.

We are drawn into these conversations, and we are engaged by small- and large-scale desires to positively respond to the challenges we face, because we all are potential activists. The use of social media tools is one of many resources we have in our personal and collaborative toolkits; the people I am interviewing for my book Change the World Using Social Media know and understand this because they use social media nearly every day.

Cayden Mak, 18 Million Rising

Some (e.g., Samantha Adams Becker, Maurice Coleman, David Lee King, and Jonathan Nalder) have been friends and colleagues for many years and are people who, before they agreed to be interviewed for this book, did not overtly identify themselves as activists. The fact that, as librarians, educators, and writers, they foster social change at small- and large-scale levels through their activity in a variety of social media platforms, will, I hope, encourage you to see that you don’t need to be famous or have thousands of followers in your social media accounts to be able to contribute to positive change in the communities you serve. Others (e.g., Cayden Mak, Elizabeth Myers, and Camila Mariño Venegas) have titles and responsibilities that put them at the heart of facilitating positive change within their communities; they are people I met through the use of social media and other online resources as I was seeking activists from a variety of backgrounds so I could provide examples of effective use of social media in a variety of environments and involving a wide range of issues attracting the effort of activists fostering positive social change.

Regardless of your current use of social media and your reach in promoting change, you can easily find plenty of examples via social media platforms themselves to help you see how social media, as part of your overall activist’s toolkit, can provide opportunities for conversation, planning, collaboration, and action that will bring you and others closer to riding waves of change rather than being drowned by them. You can also easily find plenty of examples of how some of our most creative colleagues using social media remain committed to honestly and openly cultivating a sense of trust and engagement with their online and onsite collaborators and those they serve.

“I think it’s not a coincidence that our staff still tends to be highly educated—not just in a book/academic way—but many of them, past and present, have been schooled so to speak in the history of social movements and stuff like that,” 18 Million Rising Executive Director Cayden Mak said during our initial interview for Change the World Using Social Media. “That kind of expertise allows us to speak from a very genuine place—I think the voice an­­d the tone that we built was intentionally comradely in that way because we share a set of cultural references, but we’re interested in bringing more people on board with those cultural references. I think it’s been a careful effort to ensure that we both demonstrate our expertise while making that accessible to people.

“The thing that this process taught me is the importance of trust. With other organizing formations I was a part of at the time, we were building trust in order to do high-stakes things like shutting down New York State Assembly meetings and risking arrest in order to highlight hypocrisy in the university system. Online, there isn’t necessarily a sense that there are high-risk actions to take. However, I think online organizers often do themselves a disservice when they emphasize that their tools and platforms make social action ‘easy’ or ‘simple.’ Because the whole point of organizing, to me, whether it’s online or off, is to build trust among a group of people in order for them to take calculated risks towards a goal.” 

N.B. — Paul is currently writing Change the World Using Social Media, scheduled for publication by Rowman & Littlefield in 2020. This is the second in a continuing series of excerpts from the manuscript in progress.


Innovator’s Mindset MOOC (#IMMOOC): At the Intersection of Innovation, Community, and Zombies

October 17, 2017

Yet another article—this one from Inside Higher Ed—is purportedly documenting the idea that MOOCs (massive open online courses) are dead—again. Which is news to those of us who are current relishing and being transformed in dynamically positive ways by George Couros’s #IMMOOC (the Innovator’s Mindset massive open online course). #IMMOOC and others are far from being the educational equivalent of the zombies inhabiting the mythical Land of the Living Dead Learning Opportunity; in the best of situations, they are dynamic learner-centric, inspiration-laden learning spaces where communities of learning can and do develop.

My experiences with #etmooc (the Educational Technology & Media MOOC) a few years ago provided numerous surprises that I’ve documented extensively on this blog and elsewhere: it showed me that online learning is every bit as productive and rewarding as the best of my onsite learning experiences have been. It helped me realize that creating seamless blended (onsite and online) learning spaces was far from a dreamy never-in-our-lifetimes possibility. It has helped me foster an appreciation for an extended use of blended learning among colleagues and other learners. And it has transformed the way I approach my own training-teaching-learning-doing endeavors.

One of the most unexpected and rewarding aspects was the realization that the communities of learning that develop in a course (onsite or online) could, as soon as they become learner-driven by those who see themselves as “co-conspirators” in the learning process rather than sponges striving for little more than a grade or a certificate of completion, take on a life that can and will continue far beyond the timeframe of any individual course or other learning opportunity. The #etmooc community continued actively online for more than three years; it was only when numerous key members of the community changed jobs or retired that the impetus community members had for continuing to meet vanished and the community became dormant.

Yet another unexpected and rewarding aspect came with the realization that the community of learning fostered by a well-designed and well-facilitated is not a closed community. Many of us in #etmooc found that our course-based explorations put us in touch with others who were not in the course—but who became interested in the #etmooc community—because of the two-way (and sometimes multi-way) face-to-face and online conversations that started in #etmooc, continued via social media tools and other resources, and further added to the development of the #etmooc community by drawing those non-#etmooc players into the land of #etmooc. For me, it was a wonderfully expansive example of what Frans Johansson so clearly described as “The Intersection” in The Medici Effect—the type of third place (e.g., a pub) where strangers briefly come together, exchange ideas (involving plenty of listening as well as talking), then disperse and help disseminate those ideas among others whose paths they cross long after the original pub discussions (or MOOC community of learning discussions) took place.

I saw this in action again last week in terms of the #IMMOOC community expanding beyond its tremendously permeable walls when I helped initiate a one-hour conversation about one particular aspect of The Innovator’s Mindset with colleagues who meet online to record sessions of Maurice Coleman’s podcast T is for Training. The conversation began with little more than participants having a link to an online resource—“8 Characteristics of the Innovator’s Mindset (Updated)”—that George Couros wrote and eventually incorporated into his book. We summarized the resource during the first few minutes of that episode of T is for Training, then used it as a springboard for a discussion exploring how it could be incorporated into the library training-learning programs that we help shape and facilitate.

The result was that, by the end of the hour, we were energized and ready to transforms the words from The Innovator’s Mindset into concrete actions designed to support innovative approaches to learning within the organizations we serve. We had also created a new learning object—the archived recording of the discussion—that contributes to the resources available to those exploring the topic—including those of us participating as co-conspirators in #IMMOOC. And we had created a new, ready-to-expand Intersection whereby the T is for Training community and the #IMMOOC community might meet and grow together. And the next possibility—that others who have not participated in T is for Training or #IMMOOC might now begin interacting with the fostering the positive actions both communities support—is a possibility ready to spring to life. Which is not, all things considered, a bad result coming from a form of learning that has just, once again, been declared dead and active only as one of an ever-increasing league of Zombies of Learning.

N.B. — This is the sixth in a series of posts inspired by Season 3 of #IMMOOC.


Innovator’s Mindset MOOC (#IMMOOC): Reading in the 21st Century

September 25, 2017

Reading as I prepare to dive into #IMMOOC (the Innovator’s Mindset massive open online course) Season 3, I’m once again coming face to face with how much continues to change in the way we train, teach, learn…and read. At the heart of this Connectivist MOOC is George Couros’s book The Innovator’s Mindset: Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead a Culture of Creativity, so the learning process begins with reading the Foreward and Introduction to the book. And therein lies a lesson very much worth experiencing and learning.

Couros--Innovator's_Mindset--CoverReading those first few pages of the print edition of the book brings us in contact not only with Couros’s lovely writing voice, but also, not surprisingly, with a variety of additional resources through references to videos and a few other books. Nothing revolutionary there…until we decide to take advantage of absorbing the book’s contents by pursuing all available contents, including those videos. So, instead of doing what I’ve done in the past—reading the text and promising myself that I would go back to the “extended content” that includes those videos and other books, I’ve taken a more leisurely approach this time around. When Couros mentions Dan Brown’s “An Open Letter to Educators” video (accessible on YouTube from my laptop or mobile device), I take the 6.5 minutes required to watch the video, then return to the book with a far deeper, visceral, engaging understanding of the point Couros is making about the need for us to change our approach to teaching at the moment I’m reading these words. And when he includes a quote from 17-year-old TEDx presenter Kate Simonds’ “I’m Seventeen” talk, I bring her right into my learning space (and hear her plea for more collaboration among learners and learning facilitators) by watching the 13.5-minute video of that session before returning to the printed pages of the book that now, for me, includes that encounter with Simonds. And when Couros writes about how the O2 commercial “‘Be More Dog’ illustrates how a decision can lead to extreme and positive changes,” I follow the link and enjoy a good, thought-provoking moment courtesy of the access I have to that commercial via YouTube so it, too, is part of my reading experience today.

Couros writes, on p. 7, that the book “is all about how we can make the most of learning to create meaningful change and provide better opportunities in our schools.” From where I sit, I believe it also shows how our onsite-online “blended learning” landscape offers us training-teaching-learning-doing opportunities we have not had until recently. It also offers us the opportunity I’m documenting here to step back from our own learning, while engaged in the learning process, to see how something as simple as the act of reading continues to evolve and affect us in ways we are not adequately noting.

T_is_for_Training_LogoIt’s a theme that also came up recently among those of us participating in the latest episode of Maurice Coleman’s wonderful biweekly library training-teaching-learning podcast T is for Training. We were engaged in a conversation about a resource (“Liberating Structures”) we had been exploring, and I temporarily stopped the conversation by noting how “blended” our session had become. The four of us on T is for Training were physically sitting in our offices on opposite coasts of the United States, learning from each other through that dynamic virtual learning space created by Maurice’s fabulous online-facilitation skills that fostered an online discussion that immediately became an archived learning object (created, in true Connectivist fashion, by the learners themselves) for anyone else who wanted to access it online as soon as it was posted. And our discussion—in a way that parallels what I’m experiencing as I read a blended printed-online version of The Innovator’s Mindset—seamlessly moved back and forth between the online resources we were reading-exploring-citing while carrying on that online discussion. This is the act of reading as part of an ever-expanding conversation that connects live and asynchronous participants in ways that bring new learning opportunities to us in an approach limited only by our imaginations, our online-search skills, and our access to the technology that puts those resources and participants into our reading-learning spaces.

My exploration of this expanded version of reading a book in preparation for the live IMMOOC session online today comes full circle as I come across citations from a few other books. There is one I have already read in print format, so Couros’s quote from the book rekindles the pleasure of recalling and re-using material already read and absorbed; it becomes woven into my current reading-learning experience and, in the process, gains new life. And as I come across a couple of other references, I quickly find excerpts online from those books so I can skim them and make them part of this immediate reading experience, if time allows, before the live session begins.

Couros, in referring to the “Be More Dog” video, tells us that “[t]he line from the video that resonates most with me is, ‘Look at the world today; it’s amazing.’” And as I prepare for the first live, online interactions I will have with my #IMMOOC colleagues later today, I’m struck—as I always am by first-rate learning experiences—by how amazing the changes in reading and learning continue to be…particularly with the added perspective of an innovator’s mindset.

N.B. — This is the first in a series of posts inspired by Season 3 of #IMMOOC.


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