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

March 19, 2018

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

 

Jeff Merrell

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

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

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

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

It’s. Not. About. Social media.

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

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

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

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

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

Let me start over with a couple of examples.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 N.B. — Paul is currently writing Change the World Using Social Mediascheduled for publication by Rowman & Littlefield in Fall 2018. This is the eleventh in a continuing series of excerpts from and interviews for the manuscript in progress.

Advertisements

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

March 19, 2018

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

 

Jeff Merrell

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

Let me do both.

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

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

Topics

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

My own words here:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

N.B. — Paul is currently writing Change the World Using Social Mediascheduled for publication by Rowman & Littlefield in Fall 2018. This is the tenth in a continuing series of excerpts from and interviews for the manuscript in progress.


Acknowledging Connections, Community, and Learning through Connected Educator Month

October 11, 2013

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.

Connected_Educator_Month_LogoIt’s well worth expressing gratitude, therefore, to our colleagues in the U.S. Department of Education for sponsoring the event that is so wonderfully described in an online video, evident through the online listings of events, and supported by the numerous online resources even though the sponsors themselves are at least temporarily disconnected as a result of the current shutdown of Federal Government operations. It’s also worth noting that the list of participating organizations is quite extensive.

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.

Looking at connections within my own learning environment makes me realize how fortunate and wealthy I am in terms of what connections and connectivity provide at every possible level. There is the joy of being part of a vibrant and vital community of learning that I experience each time I participate on one of the online weekly tweet chats organized by colleagues via #lrnchat, as I noted in an article I wrote and posted just days before learning about Connected Educator Month. There is the breadth and scope of resources I find every time I engage with colleagues in the American Society of Training & Development (ASTD) at the local, regional, and national levels, as I’ve so frequently noted on this blog. There are the numerous and invaluable conversations and exchanges with ALA Learning Round Table colleagues over dinners while we have attended conferences together. And there is the ongoing unparalleled learning experience that comes my way each year through participation in the New Media Consortium Horizon Project, which brings together a relatively small group of colleagues from a number of different countries to collaborate within a stimulating online environment and through face to face annual summits to explore developments and trends in technology, education, and creativity.

xplrpln_logoObservations about connectivity become even more circular and seamlessly interwoven when I think about how Connected Educator Month provides an opportunity to celebrate the connections fostered by connectivist MOOCs (massive open online courses)—including connections to others outside of those MOOCs. It’s far from hyperbole to say that participation in #etmooc—the Educational Technology & Media massive open online course developed by Alec Couros and colleagues earlier this year— substantially increased my connectedness to wonderful trainer-teacher-learners around the world. And the #etmooc community of learning that has grown in the months since the formal coursework ended has led to even more connections through an invitation to join the five-week Exploring Personal Learning Networks (#xplrpln) MOOC that Jeff Merrell and Kimberly Scott are facilitating under the auspices of the Northwestern University Master’s in Learning & Organizational Change Program. Not only does #xplrpln provide another venue in which #etmooc participants can work together, but it is, through its exploration of personal learning networks, helping all of us as participants enrich our own.

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.

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


%d bloggers like this: