Synchronous Sessions, Asynchronously: Blending Meetings, Learning, and Digital Literacy

February 20, 2013

The borders between well-designed synchronous and asynchronous experiences are becoming increasingly indistinguishable. And that raises a fundamental question for all of us: in an onsite-online world where interactions travel rhizomatically, how do we as trainer-teacher-learners define, plan, and deliver a learning event or any other event grounded by a specific timeframe and centered around online meetings? The answer may be that as we explore ideas about digital literacy/literacies and 21st-century learning, we’re finding the word “event” becoming less and less important while the word “process” much more adequately describes life in a digital world.

etmoocMy own recent experiences with virtual meetings and my ongoing participation in #etmooc—the Educational Technology and Media MOOC (Massive/Massively Open Online Course) organized by University of Regina professor of educational technology and media Alec Couros and others –suggests how permeable those (perceived) barriers between synchronous and asynchronous interactions have become and how expansively we can define the concept of meetings.

Unable to attend Howard Rheingold’s wonderful live #etmooc session on “Literacies of Attention, Crap Detection, Collaboration, and Network Know-How” yesterday within Blackboard Collaborate, I “participated” this morning by watching the archived version. I could see and hear Rheingold as if he were speaking to me live, in the moment. Skimming the very lively chat as it was appearing on the screen augmented the impression that I was part of a live event. Following numerous links to related resources provided by those who contributed to the live chat allowed me to gain from the collective wisdom of that community of learning as effectively as I would have had I been participating in the original program. Reviewing the Etherpad transcript that includes links to the numerous resources mentioned in the live chat further engaged me in that synchronous/asynchronous experience. And carrying that newly-acquired knowledge into a live #etmooc tweet chat at noon PT today took me even further.

etmooc_blog_hubIn a very real sense, the separations between the Rheingold recording and the tweet chat are insignificant. Some of the same participants were present for both. The opportunity to learn more about digital literacy by treating both sessions as one continuous “meeting” helps me define what digital literacy actually implies (the ability to move seamlessly within these various digital platforms to create one cohesive experience). And, as MOOCmate Glenn Hervieux observed recently in one of his #etmooc blog postings, participation in #etmooc through its various online gathering places gives participants incredibly rich and rewarding opportunities to “help nourish each other.”

Flexibility, adaptability, and participation—particularly participation—seem to be key elements of this experience as well as of digital literacy, for the less we tether ourselves to time and place, the more deeply we can engage each other—something that became more obvious to me last week during an online meeting I was facilitating for the American Libraries Advisory Committee. We have, over the past half year, made the transition from being a group that met face-to-face twice a year to being a group that meets monthly; we augment those semiannual onsite meetings with monthly conference calls via FreeConferenceCall.com and opportunities to continue our conversations asynchronously online via a site provided by the American Library Association. It wasn’t until we had an unexpected miscommunication last week that I realized how continuous our interactions had become. Part of the group had the impression that the monthly call was beginning at noon ET, while the other half of the group believed that the meeting was beginning at 1 pm—something I didn’t discover until those meeting at 1 pm contacted me via email to find out whether I was going to attend.

The opportunity was irresistible. I joined the 1 pm group; briefly covered the same agenda items with them; shared the comments from the earlier discussions so they had a chance to interact (asynchronously) with who had already participated one hour earlier; and will close the circle by posting minutes of the meeting that includes all the comments. The result: two synchronous meetings, held asynchronously, will become a synchronous experience for any of us who take the few minutes required to read the set of minutes. And we can continue those discussions through our online site over the next few weeks and/or resume them when we meet virtually again in March.

What we can’t afford to miss here is that there certainly is a set of skills needed if we’re going to operate in this sort of synchronous-asynchronous world, and those set of skills can move us a bit closer to seeking broad definitions for digital literacy/digital literacies,” as #etmooc participants are attempting to do at this point in the course.

Rheingold, in his session that complemented what Doug Belshaw provided two days earlier in his #etmooc digital literacy/literacies session, drew from a lifetime of experience and the content of his book Net Smart: How to Thrive Online (“wh@t you need to know to use soci@l medi@ intelligently, hum@nely & mindfully”)  to move us toward a deeper understanding of a topic many of us have explored only at the most superficial of levels. Trying to summarize the session here is unnecessary not only because the archived version remains available online, but also because #etmooc colleague April Hayman summarized it so beautifully in a masterful display of digital literacy on her own blog.

Those still hungry for more of Rheingold’s work—and who wouldn’t be?—will find plenty of nourishment through some of the links provided by the #etmooc community, including Steve Hargadon’s Education 2.0 conversation with Rheingold; Rheingold’s 10-minute YouTube video on “crap detection”—determining credibility of information on the Internet; his 2008 TED talk on “The New Power of Collaboration; and online excerpts from Net Smart. One additional resource well worth perusing: a reposting of Neil Postman’s 1969 essay “Bullshit and the Art of Crap-Detection”—a wonderful reminder that the issue isn’t solely a product of the digital age or a digital literacy challenge.

N.B.: This is the tenth in a series of posts responding to the assignments and explorations fostered through #etmooc.


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