LearniT! Technology Adoption Summit (Pt. 2 of 2): Writing on the Walls

December 10, 2015

Designing or redesigning learning spaces is an increasingly common endeavor; knowing how to use those spaces effectively is an entirely different challenge that often doesn’t receive the attention it deserves.

LearniT!_LogoSo when I had an opportunity (earlier this week at the LearniT! Technology Adoption Summit here in San Francisco) to observe and learn from someone who clearly revels in using every inch of a learning space to the benefit of the learners she serves, I faced the wonderful challenge of trying to absorb the learning content she was offering while also trying to pay close attention to how she accomplished what she was so effectively accomplishing.

Walking into each of the four one-hour sessions led by LearniT! Vice President of Professional Development Jennifer Albrecht on the topic of exploring and developing an Agile approach to project management and many other workplace endeavors (including training-teaching-learning) was a trainer-teacher-learner’s dream. The sessions were highly interactive. Well organized. Learner-centric. And they were clearly designed to inspire participants to apply what was learned as quickly as possible after the sessions ended.

Obviously grounded in LearniT!’s “8 Step Model for Learning,” the sessions (without ever feeling forced or formulaic) encouraged self discovery (brief self-assessments were a deftly-handled element of the learning experiences); provided concise explanations of ideas—and the value of the ideas—to be explored; included brief breakout sessions to foster a social-learning approach; included class discussions; offered moments for us to consider how what we were learning could quickly be applied in our worksites; had moments for individual learners to complete exercises to foster greater use of what was being learned; encouraged participants to engage in small groups (two or three people per group) to further learn by sharing their thoughts on specific elements of the course content); and left us thinking about what would and could come out of the time we spent together.

The framework, as many of us recognize, is not particularly revolutionary; it actually provides the foundation for some of the best learning experiences we are encountering onsite, online, and in blended (onsite/online) learning environments. But what made Albrecht’s sessions dynamic from the moment we entered her/our learning spaces was the way she so effectively and with minimal effort transformed our perceptions of the space in subtle yet important ways.

Jennifer Albrecht

Jennifer Albrecht

One fairly straightforward example was the manner in which she rapidly went back and forth from having a formal front of the room to having a room full of interactive centers. Her standard approach, whenever she wanted learners to engage in an exercise in groups of two or three people, was to give us eight seconds to form those groups. It always worked: within an eight-second period, the learning focus had shifted from a teacher-to-learner model to a learner-to-learner model where the front of the room was wherever a group of learners were interacting. The transformation was so effective and so complete that most learners didn’t seem to notice that she occasionally, briefly stepped outside of the room while the learning continued because learners had taken control of their own learning process.

What was most striking to me, however, was a sudden, completely unexpected shift in my own perceptions of how the room-as-learning-space was functioning. It started with her use of the whiteboards that seem to cover entire left-to-right spaces in many of LearniT!’s classrooms. If Albrecht had simply done what so many of us do—used those spaces to write notes and draft simple illustrations of points she was making—we would have had good, productive learning sessions. If she had simply done what her other colleagues did—used the center part of that white board as a screen upon which she could project text-laden PowerPoint slides—we still would ultimately have had good, productive sessions. But by creating visually appealing slides with strong imagery projected onto and extending seamlessly across the central section of a wall-length white board (instead of onto a stand-alone screen), she subliminally created the same feeling of engagement and immersion we have when we’re watching a movie in a well-designed theater—a feeling also fostered through her use of the whiteboard as a screen for showing brief videos. Those videos and the high-quality, visually-appealing images from her slide deck made them feel as if they were part of the entire room; they were large enough to draw us into them completely as they flowed across a space with no visible boundaries differentiating it from other parts of that entire front wall.

It was only at the point when she began writing on that extended whiteboard, using a space unoccupied by one of the beautiful images she was projecting, that I realized how much my perceptions of the room had changed without my having noticed the change: “Oh my God, she’s using a marker to write on that expensive screen,” I thought in horror until I quickly refocused my attention to take in the fact that the screen was the whiteboard and the whiteboard was the screen. In the same very important way, I also realized that Albrecht had made the entire space an integral part of that learning opportunity, and the learning process was supported and augmented by her use of that space.

As is the case with many well-designed and well-facilitated learning experiences, hers were lively because there was never a moment when the learning started to feel forced or routine. She employed a variety of resources and techniques to convey information. Content within the superbly designed and graphically-stimulating PowerPoint slides, for example, were used in ways that connected them to the in-class use of simple workbooks: the content on the screen/whiteboard and the content within those workbooks seemed to melt into one cohesive resource. Her judicious use of the short videos to bring otherwise unavailable experts into the room to make key points provided a variety of viewpoints during what was essentially a one-facilitator session. Sprinkling citations to additional resources throughout her presentation and our discussions repeatedly and subliminally reminded us that our learning was a process as well as an event and that we could continue learning long after we left the room—something I took advantage of by using my tablet to place reserves on a few books through my local public library while I was still participating in the session.

None of this is difficult to replicate. All of it requires a commitment to learner-centric creative approaches to learning and to learners—probably one of the most rewarding lessons I could have once again encountered by attending the Technology Adoption Summit and learning from a master learning facilitator.

N.B.: This is the second of two sets of reflections inspired by the LearniT! Technology Adoption Summit; the first set remains accessible elsewhere on this blog. 

 

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LearniT! Technology Adoption Summit (Pt. 1 of 2): I Wanna Try That

December 9, 2015

Anyone who still feels that learning to use new technology has to be a frustrating, mind-numbing experience should have been at the LearniT! Technology Adoption Summit here in San Francisco yesterday.

LearniT!_LogoIt was a wonderful example of how a company’s interest in promoting its product—in this case, numerous first-rate learner-centric onsite and online learning opportunities for those in need of technical and desktop training as well as professional development opportunities—can occasionally and easily be combined with a meaningful, very productive day of learning at no cost to participants. And for those of us involved in training-teaching-learning, it was an inspiring opportunity to see colleagues at the top of their game displaying easy-to-replicate effective methods for engaging our learners.

The structure of the free daylong summit itself is well worth noting as an example of how an event reflects the learning approaches it showcases. It began with an informal half-hour slot during which participants could get to know each other one-on-one or in small groups before diving into the learning sessions scheduled throughout the day; the fact that company CEO Damon Lembi, several members of his staff, and several LearniT! instructors were accessible but not at all the center of attention at that point reflected what was obvious during each of the learning sessions I attended: this is a company where learners and learning facilitators work effectively together by creating small, temporary, and supportive communities of learning while they/we are together.

It also included tremendous displays of hospitality and a commitment to creating a social-learning environment in that summit organizers had plenty of food and beverages—including sandwiches, pizza, and salads at lunchtime; coffee and cookies during a mid-afternoon break; and wine, soft drinks, cheese, and cold cuts during an early-evening reception just before the final set of sessions began.

Also well-worth emulating was the way the schedule offered a varied but far from overwhelming set of choices. Each one-hour slot included three different learning opportunities. Participants could attend as few or as many sessions as they cared to attend throughout the day. Some sessions were clearly meant to serve as stand-alone learning opportunities; others offered a clear learning track, as was the case with a series of four interrelated sessions exploring an Agile approach to project management and many other workplace endeavors (including training-teaching-learning)—but even that learning track was developed flexibly enough to accommodate those who wanted to attend the entire series as well as those who may have only been interested in one or two of the offerings. (This approach to letting learners determine how many—and which—modules of a series of learning opportunities they want to pursue is one of the many reasons I had LearniT! as a training partner when I was in charge of the San Francisco Public Library staff training program many years ago.)

windows-10-logo-redThe levels of flexibility visible and inherent within the LearniT! approach to the summit (and to its day-to-day operations) played out to the benefit of the company and participants in magnificent ways. While there was not a lot of repetition among the session offerings, at least one—an introduction to Windows 10—was scheduled in two different time slots to accommodate what was anticipated to be a spillover crowd for the initial session and to also accommodate participants who might have opted to arrive later in the day rather than attending the entire daylong event. More impressively, summit organizers realized early in the day that they were facing an overflow crowd for another one-time session, so immediately located a second instructor to lead a simultaneous offering in that same time slot—then notified everyone by making announcements in the classrooms and sending a follow-up email to all registered participants.

When we turn to the heart of what the summit accomplished, we find ourselves focusing on how the various instructors worked to make the subject matter meaningful to those of us in the learner seats. Sean Bugler, for example, enthusiastically covered an amazing array of elements during his 45-minute introduction to Windows 10. His love for the product was infectious even for those of us most cranky about having to go through yet another upgrade and having to learn a new way of doing things we would have been quite happy to continue doing with our current tech tools if the inevitable upgrading of software weren’t forcing us to sift through another set of changes. And his highly-developed ability to quickly, concisely respond to learners’ questions in easy-to-understand terms was something any trainer-teacher-learner could have benefitted from observing. Even before I left Bugler’s session, I was already thinking—and saying out loud—the words I love hearing from any learner: I wanna try that. And thanks to Sean and our colleagues at LearniT!, I know I will.

Next: A Summit Learning Facilitator, an Agile Approach, and Writing on the Walls  


AEJMC 2015 Annual Conference: MOOCs, Journalism, and Learning

August 14, 2015

When someone talks about actually having several thousand people come to class, I’m all ears—as I was again last weekend while serving on a panel discussion on the closing day of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communications (AEJMC)  98th Annual Conference here in San Francisco.

AEJMC_2015--Logo[2]The conversation, built around the question of how massive open online courses (MOOCs) are changing universities, gave moderator Amanda Sturgill (Elon University School of Communications) and the four of us serving as panelists a wonderful opportunity to explore, with session attendees, some of the pleasures and challenges of designing and facilitating these still-evolving learning opportunities. Each of the four of us—my colleagues on the panel included David Carlson (University of Florida College School of Journalism and Communications), Daniel Heimpel (University of California, Berkeley Goldman School of Public Policy), and Bozena Mierzejewska (Fordham University Gabelli School of Business)—has had hands-on experience with designing and facilitating MOOCs. Each of us, with little discussion, agreed that we see MOOCs augmenting rather than posing a threat to higher education. We acknowledged that preparing for a MOOC is a time-consuming, intense experience requiring plenty of collaboration and coordination of efforts. And we seemed to be in agreement that a MOOC can be means to an end: a MOOC on journalism for social change, for example, engages learners as journalists whose work has the possibility of being published, and a MOOC on educational technology and media engages trainer-teacher-learners in the act of learning about ed-tech by exploring and using ed-tech while ultimately (and unexpectedly) leading to a sustainable community of learning that continues to evolve long after the formal coursework ends.

But perhaps the most meaningful observations were those that took us to the heart of why we are engaged in designing, delivering, and promoting MOOCs: we became teacher-trainer-learners because we want to help people, and MOOCs are a great way to achieve that goal if learners have access to the content and if they are supported in learning how to learn in our online environments. Furthermore, MOOCs provide additional ways to meet the ever-growing lifelong-learning needs so many of us encounter. As each of us discussed projects in which we have been involved, we and our audience members gained a deeper appreciation for the variety of explorations currently underway.

Journalism_for_Social_Change_MOOCHeimpel, for example, brought a couple of his own somewhat overlapping worlds together to the benefit of learners in his solutions-based journalism course, Journalism for Social Change, earlier this year. Combining the platform he has through UC Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy with his role as publisher at The Chronicle of Social Change, he was able to nurture course participants in their explorations of a specific social issue (child abuse) while providing publication opportunities for those whose work reached professional levels.

Open_Knowledge_MOOCMierzejewska, in her position at Fordham, had an entirely different opportunity: the chance to work with colleagues at four other academic institutions (Autonomous University of the State of Mexico, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Simon Fraser University, and Stanford University) in an Open Knowledge: Changing the Course of Global Learning MOOC while creating something that another of my colleagues (Jeff Merrell, at Northwestern University) has been exploring—a MOOC that has its expected online presence along with onsite interactions among some of the learners. Her preliminary report online is a fabulous case study of what this type of blended learning produces; it includes her up-front observation that being involved in the MOOC “was actually very inspiring and eye-opening to what students can learn online only and how you can enrich those experiences with classes that are flipped.”

Musics_Big_Bang_MOOCCarlson was our resident rock star with his description of what went into the making and delivery of his Music’s Big Bang: The Genesis of Rock ‘n’ Roll MOOC that attracted 30,000 registrations and brought several thousand of those potential learners into his virtual classroom. He mentioned challenges that many of us face—producing engaging videos, having to coordinate his efforts with a variety of colleagues to bring a massive undertaking of that nature to fruition, and the attention to detail required while making videos (e.g., if videos shot on different days were later edited together, obvious discontinuities such as the fact that he was wearing different outfits or had hair that changed in length from shot to shot became obvious).

But while all of us in that room last weekend might have laughed together over the small challenges of clothing changes and changing hair lengths, few of us could have walked away thinking MOOCs were any less than an important and still growing part of our learning landscape—one with tremendous potential to augment our short- and long-term learning opportunities for willing and able to explore them.


AEJMC 2015 Annual Conference: Journalism, Supporting Communities, and Learning Online

August 12, 2015

There were plenty of intriguing juxtapositions for teacher-trainer-learners to observe and absorb last week while attending the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communications (AEJMC)  98th Annual Conference here in San Francisco—not the least of which was differing attitudes expressed toward serving audiences onsite and online.

AEJMC_2015--Logo[2]It’s a familiar and sometimes far-from-necessary either-or dilemma that exists in many of our contemporary venues—e.g., printed vs. online publication, onsite vs. online learning, onsite vs. online communities and collaboration—and often ignores the idea that looking for ways to blend those two proffered choices into something much more far-reaching and magnificent is sometimes (but not always) possible.

The context for the first of the two stimulating panel discussions was the topic “Who Will Serve the Civic Communication Needs of Cities?: Legacy Media, New Media and Community Discourse in Urban Life,” while the second, “The Experiment: Stopping All Print and Moving a College Newsroom Over to Medium and Twitter,” offered the compelling story of how a journalism instructor and her students transformed an unread print publication into an online multi-platform publication reaching a global audience.

Given the difference in focus—Civic Communication focused on the roles journalism plays in fostering community at a local level, particularly in urban metropolitan areas, while The Experiment was a success story drawing upon lessons learned by staff of the community college newspaper at Mt. San Antonio College in Southern California—there was plenty to be considered for those of us interested in contemporary journalism as well as for those of us committed to providing first-rate training-teaching-learning opportunities to those we serve.

Iris-Chyi--Trial_and_Error--CoverCivic Communication was a spirited conversation involving moderator Gary Gumpert (Urban Communication Foundation) and five other panelists (Chris Barr, Knight Foundation; H. Iris Chyi, University of Texas at Austin; Sharon Dunwoody, University of Wisconsin-Madison; Peter Gade, Gaylord College; and Jan Schaffer, American University), so there was far from complete agreement. There was, however, a strong foundation laid during the initial parts of the conversation suggesting that media outlets are making a huge mistake if they ignore the power print publications play in fostering community—particularly at that mid-level metropolitan newspaper level of operation. Among the concerns mentioned by panelists were the short duration of visits to newspaper websites (4.4 minutes); research showing that information read online doesn’t stick with us the same way information read in printed publications does; and an overall sense that online content is “inferior” to printed content—what Chyi referred to as the equivalent of Ramen Noodles as opposed to more nutritious products.

Others on the panel suggested that the whole concept of “mass media” needs to be rethought as our online resources provide access to powerful niches well worth serving within markets/communities. Media today, one suggested, are networked, social, connective, and niche; the quality of the audience is every bit as important as the idea of reaching a mass audience—all of which suggests that journalists need a new “knowledge base” that allows them to engage with members of the communities they serve and to foster citizen participation within those communities. It’s a theme with parallels in our training-teaching-learning environments: we continue to seek ways to engage learners and foster learner-centric, learner-driven engagement that produces positive results within local, regional, national, and global communities through our blended onsite-online interactions.

sac.mediaMoving to the conversation within the Mt. San Antonio College session, we heard instructor Toni Albertson and student journalists Albert Serna, Talin Hakopyan, and Jennifer Sandy describe how they responded to their target audience’s preference for online rather than printed publications by taking the campus paper online across a variety of platforms—and how that affected their approach to identifying and covering newsworthy events. Creating “sac.media: College news without the ink,” the student journalists took on a newly-found enthusiasm for what they did, covering a variety of issues, including how journalism itself is taught and fostered. They also carried their publication across platforms including Medium, Twitter (through @SAConScene), and YouTube so they could give each story the attention and platform they felt it deserved. They also were—and remain—innovative in reaching out to their target audience: when promoting stories they believe are significant, each staff member identifies 12 potential readers who might be interested in that story, then uses Twitter to reach out to those readers—a nice echo of the Civic Communication panel discussion about the need for journalists to more directly engage with members of their communities. The result, according to Nieman Lab writer Dan Reimold, is “one of the most daring college media outlets in the United States.” And if any of us manages to learn from and be inspired by what those Mt. San Antonio college colleagues are doing, perhaps our own writing-training-teaching-learning efforts will be the better for our having encountered them.


AEJMC 2015 Annual Conference, Day 1: On Homecomings, Digital Literacy, and Lifelong Learning

August 7, 2015

For trainer-teacher-learners with backgrounds in journalism—and I suspect there are plenty of us—attending the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communications (AEJMC)  98th Annual Conference (held here in San Francisco this year) is a bit of a homecoming.

AEJMC_2015--Logo[2]It’s not just the joy of being around more than 2,000 thoughtful, innovative colleagues from all over the world as we explore trends, challenges, and developments in journalism and mass communication; it’s an opportunity to see how our training-teaching-learning colleagues in a vitally important part of our contemporary world are continuing to hone their own skills while fostering the next generation(s) of professionals who will shape the face of the industry and the world it serves.

As is the case with any ambitiously-designed conference, the number of sessions to explore is overwhelming and hints at the importance of incorporating at least a couple of digital-literacy skills into the experience of treating conferences as part of our lifelong-learning experiences: the skill of sifting through torrents of information (in this case, to initially identify what is most likely to contribute to our own lifelong-learning needs), and an ability to use digital resources to enhance our learning. These skills, I might add, are clearly essential not just to the journalism and mass communications colleagues whose company I’m currently enjoying, but to any of us involved in the constantly-evolving world of training-teaching-learning.

The sifting, in this case, takes place at a variety of levels. Access to the online schedule before arriving onsite at the conference gave us an opportunity to make preliminary decisions regarding which sessions would most likely meet our learning needs. Receiving the printed copy of the 270-page conference book onsite allows us to fine-tune those choices a bit more. Following the Twitter feed from the conference draws our attention to colleagues’ recommendations for opportunities we might otherwise have missed. And hallway conversations add the icing to the conference cake by giving us opportunities to meet presenters whose sessions might otherwise not have made it onto our must-attend lists.

Rethinking_Digital_Literacy--Course_GraphicUsing digital resources to enhance our learning not only while we’re here but long after the conference formally concludes is something equally worth noting and exploring. The simple act of tweeting highlights from sessions we attend pays off at several levels: we produce a set of online notes to which we later can return to continue our learning; we see onsite colleagues’ tweets from those sessions and others we are not physically able to join, thereby increasing the breadth and scope of our conference/learning experience; we occasionally engage online with colleagues who couldn’t be here physically but feel less “left behind” because of our online exchanges; and the natural inclination to occasionally, while a session is underway, go online to find a site that further explains what is being discussed means we are extending the reach of these physical learning spaces well into the virtual world to create an onsite-online classroom that is limited only by our imaginations and access to the Internet.

This plays out nicely, as I saw during a “State of the Industry” panel discussion—the first session I was able to attend at the conference—yesterday afternoon. At the heart of the learning experience was a first-rate set of panelists: panel moderator Bob Papper, Director, RTDNA (Radio Television Digital News Association) /Hofstra University Annual [Industry] Survey; Teri Hayt, Executive Director, American Society of News Editors (ASNE); David Smydra, Executive Producer, Google Play Newstand; and Robert Hernandez, Associate Professor of Professional Practice at USC Annenberg. Adding to the experience was our ability, while tweeting highlights of the session, to see tweets from colleagues in other sessions where subject matter occasionally complemented what we were absorbing—which provided an opportunity, at a limited level, to actually create a much larger virtual learning space than any of us might have anticipated. Another element—common to what I experience while attending conferences these days—was the opportunity to extend that virtual classroom to include online resources that could provide additional background to unfamiliar topics the panelists were presenting.

Connected_China--FathomThe online-resources-as-extension-of-learning-space opportunity was particularly rewarding when Smydra introduced us to the concept of Structured Journalism—something he described as being “what digital media wants journalism to be” in that it makes the various bits and pieces of data (in various media) collected by journalists and the numerous resources going into news stories more accessible and reusable than they otherwise might be. While he was valiantly attempting to describe this somewhat complex concept in a brief period of time by providing visually-appealing examples (e.g., the Thomson Reuters Connected China project), I continued to listen to him and glance at his slides while also doing a quick online search to see whether he had any online resources providing a more in-depth exploration of the topic. And there, among the gems, was the article “Structured journalism offers readers a different kind of story experience,” written by Chava Gourarie for the Columbia Journalism Review and including quotes form Smydra, including this one that captures the concept beautifully: “It not only produces incredible stories but creates this reservoir of material that reporters and readers can call upon for future stories.”

AEJMC_2015--logoIt was at that moment that I realized I was experiencing a key learning moment described by so many of our best training-teaching-learning colleagues: that moment of learning that builds upon what we previously learned. As a blogger (as opposed to the broader role of writing articles and co-writing a book), I’ve come to appreciate the obvious and unique art form online writing offers: the ability to develop a cohesive piece of work that, through hyperlinks, allows readers to read start-to-finish or take as many detours as they care to take—and if I also make the piece more visually stimulating by embedding photographs or images of videos that include live links, I’ve further taken advantage of what this particular art form offers me and those who read my work. Smydra’s comments inspired an instantaneous building-upon-previous-learning leap from what I have been seeing in blogging to what I was beginning to see in Structured Journalism: a form that includes writing, imagery, video work, and more combined as unique, innovative, creative mash-ups providing another cohesive form of work/writing/journalism—with the added benefit of producing additional unique elements/source material that could be repurposed elsewhere.

As I continue thinking about what Smydra and his colleagues provided through their presentations, I continue taking advantage of the numerous streams of information and other resources that make conferences so richly rewarding as part of our lifelong learning landscape. There are the tweets. The conversations over a meal during an opening-night reception last night. The Storify recap of conference highlights from sessions yesterday. The bookmarked websites I accessed to write this piece as well as the websites to which I haven’t yet had time to return. My own stream of conference-related tweets (August 6 – 9, 2015) through my @trainersleaders Twitter account. And links to PowerPoint slide decks and other resources allowing us to draw upon our digital-literacy skills to continue the learning that is proving so rewarding in this and expanded moments of learning. All of which makes me suspect that Structured Journalism is already claiming a place in my training-teaching-learning-writing world.

N.B. – This report from the AEJMC 2015 Annual Conference is also the fifth in a series of reflections inspired by our ALA Editions “Rethinking Digital Literacy” course.


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