Collaboration in Learning: Co-conspirators in Exploring Technology, Lifelong Learning, Libraries, and Hubris

December 6, 2019

There is no front of the room in the four-week online Tech Trends course David Lee King and I are currently facilitating for ALA eLearning (November 4 – December 8, 2019); our asynchronous virtual meeting space is designed to make everyone an equally-empowered co-conspirator in the learning process. You won’t find instructors lecturing to learners who are surreptitiously checking their email and social media accounts; all of us are there, by choice, to learn (experientially) from each other rather than focusing solely on what the “instructors” bring to the online learning space and its bulletin boards for course discussions. And although the “Roadmap for Staff Success With New Technology” course (focused on that rich, intriguing intersection of technology, lifelong learning, and libraries) obviously has technology as a focal point, technology always takes a back seat to the people who are learning together and—more importantly—to the people who will benefit from the learning opportunities all of us create as a result of having explored technology, lifelong learning, and libraries together during the four-week run of the course.

Pulling the class together has, in itself, been a wonderfully productive, engaging, and rewarding learning process for David and for me—a process we shared quite opening with our co-conspirators, aka the learners who registered for the course. When we focused on a week-long exploration of how collaboration tools are becoming increasingly sophisticated and opening new collaborative opportunities for the learners we all serve, for example, David and I were quite open with the learners in discussing the problems we encountered with one of the collaboration tools we were using as a way of working on the course together even though I am in San Francisco and David is in Topeka. The challenges themselves became part of the learning experience for us as well as for others in the course, and the results were that we all walked away with additional resources (and ideas for resolving problems in online collaborative workspaces) in our learning toolkits as we continue designing and facilitating learning opportunities for those we all serve through libraries and other learning organizations.

When we turned to a weeklong exploration of how Artificial Intelligence (AI) tools and developments are increasingly offering us resources that might be incorporated into engaging, transformative learning opportunities, we started with a focus on how AI is affecting our target audience: people at work. We dove into examples of what our colleagues were—and are—saying about how AI is “transforming the nature of work, learning, and learning to work.” We looked at specific examples of how AI is working its way into libraries and learning. And one of our course co-conspirators, inspired by what she was learning, mentioned (on the course bulletin board) how “excited” she was by the possibility of incorporating Google Translate into the library’s efforts to better serve members of its bilingual community.  

And when we moved into an exploration of XR (Extended Reality, which includes Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality, and Mixed Reality) for the final week of the course—in progress as David and I write two interconnected sets of reflections regarding the impact of learning with learners interested in technology, libraries, and lifelong learning (you’ll find David’s part of the conversation on his blog—we again very much focused on the human side of the topic, with an eye toward encouraging our co-conspirators to outline steps they will take to incorporate their learning experiences into the learning opportunities they design and facilitate for their colleagues and other learners.

One lesson (re-)learned from our experiences with the course and the learners: it takes a combination of hubris and courage to invite colleagues to a cutting-edge exploration of rapidly-evolving technology. But that’s a challenge we were quite willing to take and discuss with our co-conspirators because the changes—and our ability to address them—were and are an integral part of any exploration of new tech. There were at least a few times when the design and development of the course was almost derailed by new developments—as was the case when we were preparing a Week 4 section on Google Daydream, only to discover that Google was formally withdrawing the product from the market just as we were writing about Daydream as a tech tool worth exploring. We did the only thing we knew how to do: we turned the situation into a case study of how quickly tech changes and how preparing for the unexpected—the Black Swans in our lives—is part of the process of learning how to explore, work with, and, when necessary, walk away from technology that seems capable of helping us meet unmet needs in our lifelong learning landscapes.

Another lesson well worth remembering is that creating and facilitating highly-interactive online learning experiences benefits tremendously from the inclusion of multiple voices made possible through links to a variety of resources (e.g., blog posts from colleagues, short videos from others more fully immersed in some of the technology under discussion than we are, and even links to PowerPoint decks that provide perspectives different than what any of us might bring to the discussions and explorations). A first-rate piece of video journalism gave all of us the backstory to Google’s withdrawal of Daydream. Free online access (via Amazon) to a chapter of Kenneth Varnum’s Beyond Reality: Augmented, Virtual, and Mixed Reality in the Library, which includes essays from several librarians who are already effectively incorporating XR into their workplaces, brought another useful perspective to what we are doing together. And we even included California State Librarian Greg Lucas virtually in the course via a brief, engaging video featuring his comments on XR in California libraries.

The bottom line for us and those we serve is that designing and facilitating an online course about cutting-edge technology offers opportunities to foster learning while engaged in learning. And the ultimate winners are those of us engaged in the course, as well as those we will better serve through the opportunities we provide as a result of the time we spend together in our virtual and face-to-faced learning spaces.

N.B.: This is one of two sets of reflections on “Roadmap for Staff Success With New Technology”; David’s set is available on his blog. Paul and David are available to work with anyone interested in onsite and/or online highly-interactive explorations of how to research and incorporate tech trends into training-teaching-learning. For more information, contact Paul at paul@paulsignorelli.com or David at davidleeking@gmail.com.


ATD ICE 2019: The Learning Room

May 21, 2019

When you attend a conference as well-organized and inspiring as ATD ICE 2019 (the Association for Talent Development’s International Conference and Exposition, here in Washington, DC), you quickly realize that every conference space is a learning space. To meet the highly varied interests of the more than 10,000 trainer-teacher-learner-doers present from all over the world, conference organizers offer more than 300 sessions over a four-day period—sometimes nearly three dozen simultaneously. To create our own learning opportunities, many of us also take advantage of the chance encounters we have in the conference exhibition hall, in the onsite ATD bookstore, in the membership and other special lounges, and other spaces to learn, in the moment, from cherished colleagues.

And then there is the Speaker Ready Room—the space reserved for those of us who have been lucky enough to have been chosen as session facilitators. It’s a relatively small, comfortable, well-lit, nicely set-up semi-private sacred space where we drop in as time allows to sit; review, rehearse, and fine-tune our presentations; and simply chat with our colleagues.

The first time I walked through the doors of an ICE Speaker Ready Room (a few years ago), I actually stopped, photographed the entryway, and tweeted out an honest admission before proceeding to an open seat at one of the round tables: It doesn’t matter how many times you serve as a presenter in learning and other venues; when you walk through that particular door at an ATD conference, it’s a special moment.

It’s an invitation to share space and time and ideas with my peers—colleagues whose work I read, watch, and admire. It’s wonderful to engage in conversation with them on the topics that drive our passions. Something on artificial intelligence and its potential effects on the job market here, something on creative ways to effectively evaluate how much our learners are retaining from the courses and workshops we provide over there, and something on personalized learning a bit further over on that side of the room. And it’s absolutely inspiring to recognize that all of us are here because our own commitment to learnng is never going to be completely satiated—and that if we’re not grabbing every possible opportunity to learn from each other, we’re ignoring one of our most valuable resources.

The combination of collegiality and professionalism that permeates that space fosters all-too-rare opportunities for us to learn from each other—if we’re smart enough to listen as much as we speak. Hearing colleagues talk about their latest work in our dynamic training-teaching-learning environment leaves me inspired and full of ideas that I can share with others as soon as I leave the conference. I hear the latest about the books they are writing or have recently completed through ATD Press, such as Paul Smith’s Learning While Working: Structuring Your On-the-job Training; Sardék Love and Anne Bruce’s Speak for a Living: An Insider’s Guide to a Building a Professional Speaking Career; and Jamie Millard and Frank Satterthwaite’s Becoming a Can-Do Leader: A Guide for the Busy Manager. her publishing houses. I hear about the work they are doing through podcasts such as Halelly Azulay’s The TalentGrow Show.

And, at the end of the day, every one of us walks away better than we were before we gathered in that sacred space. More aware of resources we can share. More informed about topics we should understand if we want to better serve our learners. And bolstered by the reminder that, through ATD and other professional associations that support the work we do by bringing us together, we are part of a wonderful community of learning that contributes to the creation of a world that, as ATD has said for years, works better.

N.B. —1) Thanks, Jim Smith, Jr., for suggesting that I write this piece after our conversation in the Speaker Ready Room. 2) Paul co-facilitated the session “Implementing Machine Learning and AI in Learning—Global Cases and Best Practices” at ATD ICE Sunday, May 19, 2019, with Koko Nakahara and Evert Pruis. He is also currently writing Change the World Using Social Mediascheduled for publication by Rowman & Littlefield in 2019.

–21 May 2019


Changing the World Using Telepresence

February 20, 2019

When members of the Elders Action Network want to meet, they don’t immediately begin booking flights, hotel rooms, and meeting sites. They often turn to Zoom, one of several videoconferencing tools that are increasingly becoming low-cost (or no-cost) go-to places for meetings that can combine onsite and online interactions.

The Network, primarily comprised of older activists living throughout the United States and actively engaged with each other locally, regionally, nationally, and through international travel and online interactions, includes educators, nonprofit administrators, environmentalists, writers, and others actively working together to change the world. Among the nearly three dozen representatives listed on the organization’s website and promoting positive solutions to societal and environmental challenges are Michael Abkin, National Peace Academy board chairman and treasurer; Lynne Iser, founding executive director for the Spiritual Eldering Institute, founder of Elder-Activists-org, a symposium facilitator for the Pachamama Alliance, and a participant in the making of the film Praying with Lior, which explores the story of how a member of her family (her stepson) with Downs Syndrome interacts in his community of faith as he prepares for his bar mitzvah; and Paul Severance, administrative director for Sage-ing® International, is a member of Al Gore’s Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

Cross-pollination between members of the Elders Action Network and other complementary groups through teleconferencing and other tools is obvious from the most cursory exploration of the Network’s website. Severance and others are involved in Sag-ing International—another elder organization, dedicated to “teaching/learning, service, and community” in ways that involve mentoring and creating a legacy for its individual members. At least one member is also active in the Seniors Action Network. Another serves as executive director of Gray Is Green, “an online gathering of older adult Americans aspiring to create a green legacy for the future.”

Their live and archived Zoom sessions provide a dynamic example of how you can easily use what you already have—a desktop or laptop computer, or a mobile phone or tablet—to incorporate videoconferencing into your work to consistently develop communities committed to fostering positive actions regardless of where you live. Zoom—with free and low-cost versions—offers them a dynamic social media tool that creates an onsite space for workshops, book discussion groups, webinars, and monthly community conversations among members of the organization’s “Elder Activists for Social Justice” and “Elders Climate Action” groups. In the live sessions, participants can see any colleague using a webcam and can hear any colleague enabling the audio capabilities of his or her computer or mobile device. Zoom, like many other video-conferencing tools, offers visual options including a screen filled by the image of the person speaking; a screen that has thumbnail images of all participants using their video feed; sharing of material (including slide decks) from a speaker’s desktop; and a live chat function that allows for backchannel conversations augmenting what is taking place in the main audio feed.

Some of the community conversation recordings are archived so the life of those meetings/conversations extends far beyond the live events themselves to engage others who are interested in but unavailable to participate live during the recordings.  They become part of the seamlessly interwoven conversations you, too, can be having with members of your own community.

As members of the Elders Action Network have discovered, you don’t need to be physically present with your colleagues to have “face-to-face” conversations. Using Zoom or other videoconferencing tools can, under the right conditions, make participants feel as if they are in the same space, having productive, community-building interactions regardless of where each participant is physically located. Recordings that are well produced can even leave asynchronous participants feeling as if they are/were in the live sessions. (I have repeatedly found myself reaching, without thinking, toward my keyboard to respond to comments in a chat feed before remembering that I am trying to respond to a live conversation that ended days, weeks, or even months earlier.)

In many ways, Zoom offers a great contemporary example of how your onsite and online interactions are increasingly merging if you take time to explore how Zoom, Skype, and other videoconferencing tools can create a sense of presence—telepresence or virtual presence—that creates engaging, global spaces where activists work together to foster social change. When you begin exploring the possibilities of collaborating online through the use of telepresence tools—those ever-evolving platforms including Skype, Zoom, and Shindig that, when used effectively, can make you feel as if you are in the same room with people who can be sitting on the other side of your state, your country, or the world—you discover what so many others before you have realized: our options for communicating with each other regardless of our physical locations are continuing to evolve rapidly in ways that can make our work easier than would otherwise be possible.

Exploring the technical side of telepresence tools provides a somewhat cold, efficient understanding of what they can offer you and those you serve. Actually seeing them used or using them yourself to achieve concrete results carries you right where you need to be: understanding that they can create a sense of presence and engagement that further expands the breadth and depth of your community, your levels of engagement, and the size of the community in which you work, live, and play. And remember: play, as always, is a key element of using these tools to their fullest potential; bringing a sense of playfulness to the ways in which you incorporate them into your change-the-world efforts is a surefire way to use them to produce results rather than making them the focus of your work and, as a result, detracting from rather than supporting what you and your colleagues are attempting to accomplish.

N.B. — Paul is currently writing Change the World Using Social Mediascheduled for publication by Rowman & Littlefield in 2019. This is the sixteenth in a continuing series of excerpts from and interviews for the manuscript in progress.


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 2019. 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 2019. This is the sixteenth in a continuing series of excerpts from and interviews for the manuscript in progress.


Changing the World Using YouTube and Podcasting

December 5, 2018

If the thought of reaching your current or prospective community of activists and other collaborators via YouTube or podcasts feels daunting, start simply, openly, and honestly—with something you know—as Phillip “Brail” Watson does. Watson, on his Facebook “Our Story” page, describes himself as “a classically trained vocalist, cellist, songwriter, rapper, clinician, producer and Berklee College of Music graduate” who wants to “change the world through music.” His extensive, well-developed, engaging presence on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms fully integrates his commitment to music, spirituality, and social change in ways that make it seem like the easiest thing in the world to do. And it can be for you, too, if you pursue it as diligently and purposefully as he does.

If you spend time with Watson online by exploring his use of social media, you begin to see and appreciative the possibilities available through the effective use of a platform like YouTube. His stunningly moving TEDxTopeka talk “Giving Back” on YouTube begins with a brief, beautiful, sung prayer—obviously an element of his work that flows from the core of all he is. He then quickly pulls you in by admitting “I’m going to do this all wrong”—an admission that challenges and begs you to stay with him to see where he is going in the 18 minutes he has under the standard TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) talk format. He asks you—just as he asks the live audience he is addressing in that recorded talk—to walk with him; to see what he sees, from his perspective; and to “feel the places” where he has been—in the hope that you, as he has, will come to understand the value of giving something back to the community you cherish. It’s an invitation to be part of something positive, something greater than you already are or might ever be—and it is an effective call to action because Watson draws upon his highly-developed use of language, poetry, musicianship, and inspirational skills to integrate all of those elements into the wonderfully moving video that documents his TEDxTopeka talk in 2015.

This is about far more than making and placing content on a social media site; it is about using everything you have developed and will continue to develop to effectively reach audiences and inspire positive action. It is about developing a body of work that weaves through everything else you do. It is about integrating that work in unexpectedly creative ways with other work you do and other opportunities you pursue. It is about transforming the (sometimes) simple act of recording and sharing your thoughts on YouTube and through podcasts into an act of inviting engagement with people you may never actually meet—and recognizing that you don’t have to physically meet someone to very much be drawn into their causes and being inspired to action by them, or inspiring them and drawing them into yours.

Describing the unexpected sequence of events that led to me finding and being inspired by Watson provides some lessons worth learning:

  • Although you want to have a specific audience in mind as you prepare a YouTube video or podcast, you will have no idea initially of how broad and diverse an audience you will eventually reach and inspire.
  • A presentation given in one venue, e.g., the TEDxTopeka talk, that is recorded, posted, and shared online, gains an extended life far beyond anything you could have provided if you had simply given that presentation and then moved on to something else.
  • The efforts you make to reach your audience produce only a small part of what is accomplished when others see and share your work; those efforts offer the same expansion you see when others retweet your tweets or share your Facebook posts in ways that produce rhizomatic expansion of what you thought might be little more than a moment lived and then forgotten.

My initial unplanned step toward finding Watson online was taken when my Topeka-based colleague David Lee King and I were doing another in our series of interviews for Change the World Using Social Media, my book-in-progress for Rowman & Littlefield. I had asked David for examples he had seen of how YouTube was part of the process of promoting positive change within a community. He did not mention Watson; instead, he responded with a description of a magnificent activist’s-dream initiative, Go Topeka’s Momentum 2022, which is described on the project’s website as “a comprehensive, actionable, and consensus-based plan…to make Topeka-Shawnee County a better place to live, work, play, and do business.” King pointed me toward a two-minute video that very much impressed me: “Topeka & Shawnee County Have Momentum,” posted on YouTube by the citizen-activists in the Greater Topeka Partnership. It seemed to have everything that a video call-to-action should have: high production values, a clear message (that Topeka has lots to offer and can become even better if community partners work together to build upon its existing strengths to chip away at its weaknesses), and an obvious call to action—until I heard from Jill Hurst-Wahl during separate conversations for part of the book.

There is no gentle way to express what Jill noted after viewing the video I had so enthusiastically shared: it didn’t have many images of people, but the images included in the video did little to hint that nearly 25 percent of Topeka’s population is African-American or Hispanic. That’s when Jill found and offered a different video version of the topic: Watson’s “Topeka Proud” video, posted on Vimeo. Same city, much different viewpoint—and one that aligns with parts of the Momentum 2022 initiative calling for efforts to foster and promote greater diversity and inclusivity in Topeka. And seeing what Watson had produced led me to seek out much more of what he was doing—on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and elsewhere.

This provides another opportunity for a reminder worth repeating: you can certainly choose one specific social media platform that best suits your goals as someone attempting to foster positive change in your community, but creating an integrated presence over multiple platforms tremendously increases the chances that you will reach the largest possible group of community partners to help you reach those goals.

As you move into a more complete exploration of YouTube and podcasts as tools you can use in your efforts, it’s worth noting that there is at least one more encouraging piece to the Go Topeka/Topeka Proud story: a second video, posted on YouTube by the Greater Topeka Partnership eight months after the first one appeared, pushes the story forward with a much broader cast of characters featured: the ethnic diversity that is obvious through the inclusion of Enimini Ekong (Brown v. Board of Education National Historical Site), Leo Espinoza (College and Career Advocate, Topeka USD 501 Schools), Marcus Clark (senior pastor, Love Fellowship Church, East Topeka), Angel Zimmerman (Zimmerman & Zimmerman, PA), and others. This is clearly a community that is effectively and creatively working to promote the most positive results it can imagine.

N.B. — Paul is currently writing Change the World Using Social Mediascheduled for publication by Rowman & Littlefield in 2019. This is the fifteenth in a continuing series of excerpts from and interviews for the manuscript in progress.


EntreEd Forum 2018: When Those Who Teach Also Do What They Teach (Part 3 of 3)

October 3, 2018

It’s one thing to sit through conference presentations designed to help you learn more about a field that interests you; it’s quite another to participate in a conference which offers you opportunities to practice what you’re learning—which is exactly what happened wonderfully, helpfully, and engagingly during the second half of the three-day 2018 EntreEd Forum near Pittsburgh over the weekend.

The conference, organized through EntreEd (the National Consortium for Entrepreneurship Education)—an organization dedicated to “providing advocacy, leadership, networking, technical assistance, and resources nationally for [entrepreneurship] students and teachers”—was an incredibly immersive experience from start to finish. It offered a perfect approach for a gathering of educators interested in learning how to more effectively incorporate entrepreneurship into the work we do with learners across the United States. We spent our first morning together in a Student Entrepreneurship Showcase that gave us a wonderful opportunity to talk with those budding entrepreneurs who were onsite to describe and sell products they had made in school. We began that first afternoon learning from Grable Foundation Executive Director Gregg Behr’s keynote address about the intersection of entrepreneurship, learning, and community in Pittsburgh, then spent time in breakout groups exploring a variety of topics related to embedding entrepreneurship training into every possible setting within our education system.

Another keynote address on the second morning was followed by our participation in a variety of breakout sessions facilitated by conference attendees. By the time we finished hearing the lunchtime keynote address delivered by Nick Staples, the young entrepreneur who created the quickly-growing West Virginia-based Zenergy Cycling company, we were primed for the moment of transition: when participants were given the afternoon to develop pitches for entrepreneurial projects to be funded through cash prizes during a pitch contest to be held on the final morning we were to be together.

EntreEd representatives worked with the prospective competitors throughout the afternoon to help them develop the five-minute pitches they would deliver the following morning. And, as is the case with any great learning opportunity, this one was firmly grounded in producing something that could not only be used during the pitch contest, but long after the prospective entrepreneurs returned to their communities regardless of whether they actually won any of the cash prizes ($1,000, $750, and $500) to be awarded.

Projects pitched onsite, after a final keynote session on Preparing Teachers & Students for the Future world of work, included:

*A snack cart offering students nutritious snacks throughout the day; snacks have informational nutrition tags so students learn while snacking

*VRJ (Viking Restorative Justice) program, featuring community business leaders working with students; students apply lessons learned to develop pitches to improve their school

*A program to support high-school students who have taken on role of primary caregivers at home and often have to skip their classes; funding would allow them to spend more time in school

*Creating Opportunities Youth Conference, a one-day conference by youths for youths to foster entrepreneurial skills

*Art through the Ages, for disadvantaged elementary school students (often homeless) to collaborate on creating art they can sell; products based on that art would be produced by middle-schoolers

*Entrepreneur Night, during which students could pitch and sell products they create themselves so they become aware of business opportunities in a county where employment opportunities are extremely limited

*The Collaboratory, a maker zone in a school library to allow students to explore, build and tinker in ways that would nurture essential workplace skills; the project was pitched as a catalyst for future change

*A program fostering entrepreneurship among those who have lost their jobs

*Appalachian STEMS: Blossoming STEM Interest Among Appalachian Girls to make them #STEMStrong

*Student-designed, student-produced Koozies created within the context of a school textiles class

*BBQ (Begin, Build, Quit), a proposal to create a community BBQ pit that becomes a meeting place and site for events to strengthen community that has a very high death rate from overdoses

When the three judges returned to announce the results, they provided an unexpected example of entrepreneurship in action: having decided that they could not make a decision between two equally strong second-prize candidates, one of them—Rebecca Corbin, Executive Director at The National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship (NACCE)—offered to provide a second $750 second-place cash award through her organization so that four educator-entrepreneurs could return to their communities with funding for their projects.

Seeing what will come from the efforts of the winners—which included the first-prize award to BBQ—will carry the work of the conference forward. Seeing what will come from sharing these ideas among our peers and others we know will extend, even more, the reach of EntreEd, the 2018 EntreEd Forum, and those who were inspired by the event.

N.B. – This is the third of three posts inspired by attendance at the2018 EntreEd Forum, near Pittsburgh. Next: Encouraging Teachers of Entrepreneurship to Work as Entrepreneurs


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