Giving Thanks 2021: ShapingEDU and the Art of Gathering During (and After) the Pandemic Era

December 2, 2021

Writing about ShapingEDU and Priya Parker’s The Art of Gathering recently as part of this continuing series of blog posts has made me more grateful than ever for the people and communities that serve as a source of support and inspiration to me in much of the work I do. What connects that disparate group of capital-M Muses is that each, without overtly embracing the label, serves as an activist within the communities served—a theme I intend to address more fully in a different post.

When I think about my colleagues and many other people I have met through my involvement in the ShapingEDU project (under the auspices of the University Technology Office at Arizona State University) and their collective commitment as “dreamer-doer-drivers” committed to doing whatever they can to help reshape the future of learning in the digital age, I think with tremendous appreciation about our collective/collaborative approach to gathering—and our willingness to share lessons learned about gathering with others, as was done through the fabulous ShapingED-YOU Toolkit providing guidance on how to successfully produce “focused, collaborative Unconference and Community Camp-style events.” Our meetings, face-to-face, online, and in blended environments (those wonderful intersections where online and onsite colleagues meet using platforms including Zoom), consistently create the sense of a global meeting room that quickly erases the usual constraints of geography and are, in significant ways, one long-extended, often asynchronous conversation designed to produced positive, measurable results.

At the heart of our approach to gathering is a commitment to listen. To learn from each other. To maintain a playful approach to the work we do. To foster a sense of inclusiveness that welcomes newcomers as well as returning community members. And to focus heavily on those we are attempting to serve through our efforts. (Our commitment to reshaping learning, furthermore, includes a commitment to include students and other learners in our planning efforts and our events.) That’s something that is clearly visible through the online gatherings we have had this year—particularly the fourth annual ShapingEDU Unconference which, because of remaining concerns about gathering onsite during the pandemic, was once again completely held online (over a four-day period in July 2021).

Shaping the unconference around the theme of “Reshaping Wicked Problems” allowed and encouraged us to reshape our unconference structure a bit this year. Where previous unconference gatherings centered on an initial set of 10 actions the community was attempting to pursue, the latest unconference identified (though collaborative pre-conference exchanges online) 10 wicked challenges to be explored by unconference participants with an eye toward framing them within a newly-created structure of five calls to action that would guide our work over the next 12 months.

Among the wicked challenges were attempts to find ways to more effectively connect strategies to the tools we use in teaching-training-learning—an ongoing effort spearheaded by ShapingEDU Storyteller in Residence Tom Haymes through the Teaching Toolset project he is developing (and also writing about on the ShapingEDU blog); better engage virtual learners and avoid burnout; and identify, document, and disseminate stories about how we are rethinking our approach to learning as a result of the teaching-training-learning experiences we and others have had since the pandemic began in early 2020—something that has turned into another long-term ShapingEDU project under the newly-adopted name “Are We There Yet? (Capturing the Evolving New Now in Learning).”

A glance at the “living agenda” for the unconference gives you an idea of the approach to and scope of the work we planned to do—and, more importantly, offers you a template you can adapt for your own gatherings. Looking at the archived recordings of some of the sessions on the aforementioned ShapingEDU Community YouTube channel or directly from links within that living agenda will more fully immerse you in what we did—and, possibly, provide you with ideas you can incorporate into your  own action-oriented gatherings. You’ll see the day-long context-setting series of exercises ShapingEDU Innovator in Residence Ruben Puentedura facilitated on the second day of the conference through his use of a Black Swan approach as a framework for our discussions. You’ll see a series of keynote presentations and panel discussions, including an engaging discussion centered on “The Intersection of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Technology” from the third day of the unconference and the tremendously thoughtful and inspiring “Student Panel” discussion that opened the final day of the unconference. An archived recording of the final hour-long unconference report-out session also remains available on the ShapingEDU Community YouTube channel, along with plenty of other recordings of ShapingEDU unconference sessions, ShapingEDU webinars, and other sessions the community has produced since its formation in early 2018.

If drawing you into this level of immersion in the ShapingEDU community is successful, it will leave me with one more thing for which I will be grateful: I’ll see you there in the community as a contributor to the positive goals we are pursuing.

Next: ShapingEDU, Saying “Yes,” and Documenting Pandemic Lessons Learned

N.B.: This is the seventh in a series of year-end reflections inspired by the people, organizations, and events that are helping to change the world in positive ways and the thirty-first in a series of reflections inspired by colleagues’ reactions to the coronavirus and shelter-in-place experiences.


Innovator’s Mindset MOOC (#IMMOOC): Flexing Our Social Media Muscles

September 29, 2017

Trying to skim approximately 3,000 tweets in an hour is a ridiculously daunting challenge. One that I clearly was not up to meeting. But I gave it my best shot last night during the first of six weekly hour-long tweetchats scheduled as part of #IMMOOC (the Innovator’s Mindset massive open online course) Season 3. The result was exhilarating. Frustrating. Eye-opening (and eye-straining). Inspiring. Taxing. And ultimately, well-worth documenting and sharing as a tweetchat-on-steroids variation of a much earlier (pre-#IMOOC) #lrnchat experience I joking referred to as “Macho Tweet Chatting.”

I’ve come to love the tweetchat format in training-teaching-learning-doing for all it inspires and provides. When sessions are well-facilitated (as the #IMMOOC session was), the online 140-character-per-tweet conversations (currently morphing into 280-character bursts) are extremely stimulating and well worth revisiting through online transcripts when their organizers archive them, as our #lrnchat colleagues do. Or when someone takes the time to create a transcript using Storify, as I occasionally do.

Seeing the original online snow-flurry-of-tweets-at-the-speed-of-light translated into the much-more digestible transcript format creates room for review. Reflection. And extended moments of inspired thinking. Sharing. And additional collaboration. The transcript provides a vessel to more effectively navigate the numerous rapids in the fast-flowing river of interconnected thoughts springing from a community engaged in what it does best: learning collaboratively. One notable result is immersion in a learning object (the transcript) created by the learners themselves/ourselves through the learning act of participating in the tweetchat. It makes the learning process expansive and grounded in a well-organized learner-driven process: we prepare for the tweetchat by reading something or watching a video; then  we learn through the live tweetchat exchanges; then we create the learning object that immediately becomes part of the body of work available to us and to subsequent learners. And, in the best of all worlds, the live conversation continues asynchronously through additional tweets, through blog posts like this one, through our extended conversations on Facebook, and in numerous other ways limited only by the imaginations and willingness of the ever-expanding circle of participants or community of learners over a period of hours, days, weeks, months, or even years to continue learning together. It’s a concept meticulously described by Pekka Ihanainen and John Moravec in their paper about “Pointillist time”—what they refer to as “a new model for understanding time in pedagogical contexts”—and one I’ve been exploring in a wonderfully Pointillist time frame ever since I came across it while participating in another connectivist MOOC (#etmooc) four years ago.

There’s no denying this can be a messy process—one that requires a great deal of patience with ambiguity and a willingness to react innovatively to whatever comes our way. Even though there is a clearly-identified starting point (the tweetchat), the conversation soon extends rhizomatically through numerous very-loosely-connected platforms (as I mentioned earlier). This is clearly learning at an extremely high level, for highly-motivated learners who find pleasure in the struggle to innovatively respond to a constant stream of new challenges that have the potential to produce transformative results.

It becomes easier and more pleasurable, as I was reminded last night, with consistent practice—the same sort of practice an athlete or ballerina dancer engages in to develop muscles. (I felt, at the beginning of the session, as if my tweetchat muscles had become a bit flabby for lack of recent use.) And it helps to have learning facilitators who support us by offering guidance before, during, and after the formal learning event occurs. Most importantly, this level of learning and engagement in contemporary learning opportunities helps us become comfortable with the idea that the intentionally overblown and completely unrealistic challenge I posed at the beginning of this article (skimming 3,000 tweets in one hour) is part of a larger learning process—the process of realizing that in our dynamic, messy, rhizomatic onsite-online (blended) learning environments, success comes with accepting the fact that we don’t need to eat everything put before us on our learning plates. We have to willingly accept those portions we know we can digest within any given (Pointillist) moment, and ask for a virtual doggy bag to take the rest home with us for later consumption.

N.B. — This is the second in a series of posts inspired by Season 3 of #IMMOOC.


ALA 2015 Annual Conference: LITA Top Tech Trends, Digital Literacy, and Conversing Fast and Slow

July 31, 2015

LITA_LogoOne interesting tech trend that didn’t seem to draw any attention at a first-rate “Top Tech Trends” presentation at the American Library Association (ALA) 2015 Annual Conference here in San Francisco last month is inspiring me to write about the panel discussion nearly a month after it took place: the trend toward (and digital-literacy skill of) using online resources to extend a moment of conversation over a potentially very long period of time. The extended moment we’re going to have as a case study here is the one that began with that session on June 28, 2015, continues as I write this on July 31, 2015, and extends further into whatever day you’re reading and, with any luck, joining the conversational moment by responding to it.

There were plenty of notable tech trends covered during that session (viewable in an archived recording) sponsored and facilitated by the Library and Information Technology Association (LITA), and I’ll return to those by drawing from what we might call a Tweeter’s Digest version created in the form of an edited Storify transcript of the tweets coming out of the session.

ALA_San_Francisco--2015_LogoBut let’s focus, for a moment, on the larger, paradoxical situation/long-term trend in which we are, at the same time, driven to respond as quickly as possible online to what we encounter and yet, at the same time, are equally at ease finding something that has been online for an extended period of time before we discover and—more importantly—respond to it as if it were newly created rather than disdainfully treating it as something waiting for someone to breathe new life into it. That’s what we might call “conversing, fast and slow” if we were to puckishly name it by modifying the title of Daniel Kahneman’s thoughtful treatise Thinking, Fast and Slow.

At a time when we are sometimes (mistakenly) encouraged to believe that responses to online posts (e.g., in Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and a variety of other social media tools) must receive immediate responses if they are to receive any response at all, I’m encouraged to find that responding to older posts, articles, or other resources leads to some amazingly reflective and rewarding exchanges creating those very long moments I’m attempting to describe here. And that’s what is inspiring me to return to what some might consider to be “old news”—a brief summary and reaction to an event that happened last month—with the understanding that the delay in calling attention to the panel discussion is far less important than the act of extending the reach of that conversation via this article, the link to the archived recording, and the link to the Storify transcript which includes attendees’ initial in-the-moment reaction to the descriptions of the tech trends under review.

An interesting and important theme connecting the various panelists’ tech trends descriptions was something library staff members often try to foster: collaborative efforts combined with a commitment to providing access to useful resources. As we heard about continuing efforts to provide “free, ubiquitous internet access in cities,” we had the visceral example of the LinkNYC project, a collaborative effort between City Bridge, New York City officials, and others; it’s designed to provide around-the-clock free Internet access and touchscreen-tablet interface with City services and other resources. As we heard about cross-sector collaboration as a tech trend, we had the possibility of previously-unimagined sharing of data between a variety of organizations in ways that served those using services provided by those organizations. And when we heard about an apparent renaissance in podcasting, we had colleagues jumping into the onsite-online conversation via Twitter to suggest partnerships between library staff and podcast producers, and other colleagues tweeting podcasts that might be of interest to those engaged in the session.

Rethinking_Digital_Literacy--Course_GraphicThere is plenty more to explore in the Storify transcript and the archived recording, but what brings us full circle here is the realization that by reading this article, following the links to resources of interest to us, and responding, we immediately become part of the extended moment that transforms a one-time panel discussion into part of a continuing conversation that enriches all of us, fast and slow. And adds to what we as trainer-teacher-learners can foster.

N.B. – This is the third in a series of reflections inspired by the American Library Association 2015 Annual Conference in San Francisco and the fourth in a series of reflections inspired by our ALA Editions “Rethinking Digital Literacy” course.


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