Conferences, Twitter, and Staying Connected: No Longer Left Behind

October 28, 2013

An oft-repeated and rather poignant joke among some of my colleagues is becoming a thing of the past: those who wish they could but are unable to attend conferences—specifically those sponsored by the American Library Association—have long tried to keep up with onsite participants’ reports via Twitter, using the conference hashtag as well as #ALALeftBehind as points of connect. But more than a few of us are realizing that we can do more than sit by the virtual sidelines and watch everyone else have fun onsite, as I confirmed through a spur-of-the-moment experiment people attending the annual ASTD (American Society for Training & Development) Chapter Leaders Conference in Crystal City, Virginia a few days ago while I stayed home.

ASTD_ALC_2013--Logo

I’ve been on the other side of this left-behind fence many times, as I’ve noted through articles about participating onsite in backchannel conversations; ASTD colleague David Kelly has also written eloquently about Twitter, backchannels, and conferences. Several of us attending the annual ASTD International Conference & Exposition over the past couple of years have, as part of our Chapter Leader Day activities, reached out from the conference via short, live sessions to connect onsite colleagues with left-behind colleagues; we were attempting not only to reach out to and connect with those who stayed home, but to demonstrate how easy it could be for ASTD chapter leaders (or anyone else) to bring their local meetings to a larger audience through active Twitter feeds as well as via free tools including Google Hangouts and Skype. But I hadn’t been part of the #leftbehind gang until changing circumstances this year unexpectedly caused me, for the first time since 2008, to miss a couple of those onsite annual events that mean so much to me in terms of keeping up with my communities of learning and the ASTD colleagues who make up one very important part of my personal learning network (PLN).

The idea of trying to actively participate in the 2013 ASTD Chapter Leaders Conference via Twitter began taking shape when I saw a tweet from an onsite colleague expressing regret that I couldn’t be there for our annual joint presentation on nonprofit basics for chapter leaders. I jokingly responded, via Twitter, that I actually was there and that he had probably simply missed me up to that moment.

xplrpln_logoTransforming an offhand joke into the experiment quickly took shape as I thought about how I’ve been inspired to find new ways to reach out to members of my communities of learning and personal learning networks through the Exploring Personal Learning Networks (#xplrpln) course that Jeff Merrell and Kimberly Scott are currently facilitating under the auspices of the Northwestern University Master’s in Learning & Organizational Change Program. Less than 48 hours earlier, in fact, another ASTD colleague who is not in that massive open online course (MOOC) had stumbled into an #xplrpln session via Twitter, so it wasn’t much of a stretch for me to toy with the idea of doing the same thing via Twitter, but with a bit more planning and more deliberate actions designed to foster two-way participation.

It didn’t take long for the experiment to produce wonderful—although somewhat limited—results. Using a Twitter management tool (I defaulted to HootSuite.com, but Twubs.com and Tweetchat.com are among the tools that could have worked just as easily) at the end of the first day of the conference, I skimmed the feed late that evening, retweeted a few of the more interesting items just as I would have done if I had actually been onsite, and added comments, knowing that this had the potential not only to inspire interactions with onsite attendees but also draw in a few of my own followers on Twitter if they either retweeted or responded to those late-night posts.

Connected_Educator_Month_LogoBy the next morning, a couple of onsite colleagues had responded. And a little later, during the second day of that two-day conference, a couple of onsite conference attendees actually retweeted the notes I had retweeted. I continued to participate throughout the day as time allowed. The real pay-off for the experiment came when the exchanges put me in touch with one of the presenters who had seen the retweets and comments. The result, in many ways, was exactly what it would have been if I had been onsite and meeting members of those expanding communities of learning and personal learning networks rather than feeling as if I were part of the left-behind gang. The positive aspects of this are obvious: with a bit more planning and organization, onsite and offsite participants could be interacting at far more significant levels than the limited amount of interaction this experiment nurtured. And the obvious weakness of this plan is that the small number of onsite participants tweeting summaries of sessions made it difficult to participate in more than a few of those sessions at this level. But it was an interesting start—one that offers a lot of promise for any of us who want to nurture our communities of learning and personal learning networks in every way possible. And I certainly felt far less left behind and far more connected as a trainer-teacher-learner than would otherwise have been the case.

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


Power, Connections, Personal Learning Networks, and In-the-Moment Mobile Learning

October 16, 2013

The sight of flashing numbers on digital timepieces throughout our house yesterday afternoon was obvious evidence of a power outage while I had been away earlier in the day. But it wasn’t particularly distressing. I knew that PG&E, our local utility company, had been doing major work a block away from where I live, so I assumed the outage was over, reset the clocks, then went into our backyard to do a little gardening before joining the Week 2 live online session that would connect me to the training-teaching-learning colleagues I’m meeting through the five-week Exploring Personal Learning Networks (#xplrpln) MOOC (massive open online course) that Jeff Merrell and Kimberly Scott are currently facilitating under the auspices of the Northwestern University Master’s in Learning & Organizational Change Program.

Connected_Educator_Month_LogoApproximately 15 minutes before the session was scheduled to begin, I was about to step back into the house to log into the Adobe Captivate space where #xplrpln colleagues were to meet, but noticed something strange: the water in our fountain had stopped flowing. Wondering whether it had become clogged, I turned off the pump, turned it back on, then recognized the problem: the power had gone out again.

In an extended in-the-moment response that unexpectedly continues up to the time when I am writing—and you are reading—this piece, I begin considering options to fully participate in that live online session—and think about the importance of back-up plans. My desktop is clearly not an option since it’s reliant on a flow of electricity that is no longer available. My laptop, running on its fully-charged battery? Also not an option: it relies on a wireless router that is no longer functioning because of the power outage.

Then it hits me: my Samsung Galaxy tablet has a fully-charged battery. And 3G connectivity. So I fire it up, follow the link from my email account to the Exploring Personal Learning Networks session, and discover another barrier: I don’t have the free Adobe Connect app on my tablet. Following a link to the Google Play Store—all the time thinking “This isn’t play. This is serious!”—I tap the “install” button in the hope that the download will be quick and that I won’t face a high learning curve to be able to use it.

With moments to spare, the download is completed. I plug in a set of headphones as the PowerPoint slides for the session appear legibly on the seven-inch screen, and am hearing a stream so clear that it feels as if I’m in the same room that session facilitators Jeff Merrell and Kimberly Scott are occupying—which, in an appropriately visceral and virtual way, I am.

Curious as to whether the full range of interactions available via a desktop or laptop computer exist on the tablet, I struggle with the on-screen keyboard to enter a chat comment letting colleagues know that I may not be fully participating in the session because of the tech challenges. And it goes through, making it visible to them and to me.

xplrpln_logoThey respond audibly and via the chat to say how impressed they are. I respond by telling them how relieved I am that it’s actually working. And we all walk away with another example of the power and increasing ubiquity of m-learning (using mobile devices to augment our learning opportunities and experiences), personal learning networks, and the levels of creativity that adversity inspires.

PLNs--Writing-and_Technology--2013-10-16P.S. – Using a fountain pen to write the first draft of this piece the morning after the session ends, I face another tech challenge: the fountain pen runs out of ink. The fact that I have a back-up fountain pen with me moves me past this final tech challenge, and further confirms the importance of having effective back-up plans in place whenever we step into the wonderful intersection of technology, learning, and collaboration in our well-connected communities of learning.

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


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).



Open Education Week and the Open Movement: A Tribute

March 15, 2013

In writing recently about concepts of time, collaboration, and learning, I could have sought formal publication with payment and traditional copyright protections as I’ve done for some of the other writing I have completed on my own and with colleagues. But I didn’t. I chose, instead, to take an open movement approach: I posted the article, without expectation of financial remuneration, on my blog with Creative Commons licensing—a choice dictated as much by the topic and the way it was developed as by any other consideration.

The amazingly quick, positive, and unanticipated results have been magnificent. And they provide a rudimentary case study well worth documenting—one that viscerally displays the benefits of participating in the open movement, in Open Education Week, and open collaboration in training-teaching-learning and many other endeavors.

etmoocLet’s step back to the identifiable origins of this experience. My initial source of inspiration for that time/collaboration/ learning piece—and this one, in fact—was my continuing participation in a wonderful massive open online course (MOOC)#etmooc, the Educational Technology and Media MOOC that Alec Couros and others are currently offering through March 2013. Because our latest #etmooc field of exploration is the open movement, I’ve been inclined to explore and write about it with MOOCmates in an open rather than pay-per-piece approach. This has facilitated the rapid development and exchange of still-evolving ideas; quickly inspired expansion of our synchronous and asynchronous conversations via a Google+ Hangout, live facilitated chats and other exchanges on Twitter, blog postings, comments in our Google+ community, and email exchanges; and helped us draw others who were not previously affiliated with the course into our platform-leaping exchanges.

A key moment in exploring our changing perceptions of time in collaboration and learning came when Christina Hendricks, a MOOCmate from Canada, posted a link to an article she had not yet read but suspected would contribute substantially to the conversation: “Pointillist, Cyclical, and Overlapping: Multidimensional Facets of Time in Online Learning,” published openly by Pekka Ihanainen (HAAGA-HELIA University of Applied Sciences, Finland) and John Moravec (University of Minnesota, USA) in November 2011. I devoured that piece in one sitting the same evening I received it—three nights ago; wrote about it a couple of days later—yesterday; and sent Moravec a link to my own article so he and Ihanainen would know that their work was continuing to influence others.

Open_Education_Week_2013_LogoNot more than an hour passed before Moravec wrote back, via email, with a brief note of thanks and a follow-up question (yesterday afternoon) that is continuing to expand the conversation as I complete this piece this (Friday) evening at the end of Open Education Week 2013. The conversation shot out additional tendrils this morning: Ihanainen wrote back with additional thoughts; provided a link to an online collaborative document in which he and another researcher are exploring the theme in a way that opens the conversation to anyone—regardless of time or place—who is interested in following and/or participating in it; and included a link to his collaborator’s blog that creates a bridge between the “Pointillist” article and the online collaborative document: “Response to ‘Pointillist, cyclical, and overlapping: Multidimensional facets on time in online education,” posted by Michael Sean Gallagher on November 27, 2011. To read Gallagher’s response and the ensuing exchange of 14 comments appended to that blog posting is to openly eavesdrop in the moment on conversations that originally occurred between November 2011 and January 2012—but remain as alive now as they were when Ihanainen and Gallagher composed them.

This is where we need to further develop what I referred to in my earlier description (yesterday) as “another digital literacy skill: an ability to function simultaneously within a variety of timeframes we don’t normally consider while we’re learning”: we need to take a deep breath, step back a bit, and deconstruct what is happening here so we can build upon it to the benefit of trainer-teacher-learners worldwide.

Here’s that deconstruction and summary: Hendricks and I join approximately 1,600 other learners in #etmooc between mid-January and early February 2013. We start following each other’s work via blogs and other postings and share ideas and resources throughout February and early March—including that link to “Pointillist.” I write about  “Pointillist” on March 14 and immediately connect online to Moravec, who then puts me in contact with Ihanainen, who then leads me to Gallagher’s writing on March 15. We now have a paradoxically in-the-moment asynchronous conversation connecting participants here in San Francisco (me), in Minnesota (Moravec), in Canada (Hendricks), in London (Gallagher), and in Finland (Ihanainen) via postings that at this point extend back to November 2011 and continue into the moment in which you are reading and reacting to these thoughts—yet another example of the sort of rhizomatic learning studied and facilitated in #etmooc and at the heart of the topic of timeless learning—which Ihanainen, Moravec, and Gallagher are calling the “Pedagogy of Simultaneity.”

There’s a real danger here that all this messiness and complexity—these uncontrollable shoots and roots multiplying at a mind-numbing rate from the original #etmooc rhizome—could make the average trainer-teacher-learner run for the hills and never look back. Which would be a real shame. For at the heart of all this is a wonderfully philosophical question that also has tremendous potential repercussions for how we develop, deliver, and facilitate training-teaching-learning in our onsite-online world: what can we do to build upon the best of our traditional models of learning while incorporating the techniques and tools that are quickly becoming available to us, show no sign of slowing down, and may have evolved further by the time you’re actually reading this?

What this comes down to for me personally is that in the moment in which I’m writing this, all these conversations have merged into one vibrant vital moment regardless of when others composed and expressed their thoughts or where they were, physically, when they composed and expressed those thoughts. What it comes down to for you as a reader-learner-participant is that the same moment is as vibrant and vital regardless of the date on your calendar as you read and respond to this and regardless of where you are sitting and what form of technology you are using to read this information. And that, I suspect, is the greatest lesson to be absorbed within this particular moment comprised of what we, as members of a fluid, open, pedagogy-of-simultaneity community, bring to it.

N.B.: This is the twenty-second in a series of posts responding to the assignments and explorations fostered through #etmooc–and the 200th piece I have posted on “Building Creative Bridges.”


%d bloggers like this: