ALA Midwinter Conference: Informal Learning (in Conference Hallways)

January 28, 2014

Most of the learning at conferences takes place in the hallways, I learned from American Library Association (ALA)  Strategy Guide Jenny Levine during a conversation we were having in an enormous hallway here at the ALA 2014 Midwinter meeting in Philadelphia before she delivered the obvious punch line: “And ALA conferences have a very large number of hallways.”

ALA_Midwinter_2014--LogoAnyone involved in training-teaching-learning knows that Levine’s observation about hallways (and, by extension, other spaces such as the conference Networking Uncommons and exhibits areas) parallels conclusions firmly grounded in research done on informal learning in our workplaces. And anyone who habitually participates in conferences arranged by the organizations serving specific professions (ALA for libraries, ASTD for trainer-teacher-learners, and many others) know that those hallways are increasingly blended to combine onsite and online interactions via Twitter and a variety of other tools to respond to those who might otherwise feel left behind.

Informal learning in the ALA 2014 Midwinter meeting Networking Uncommons

Informal learning in the ALA 2014 Midwinter meeting Networking Uncommons

My own informal learning at the ALA 2014 Midwinter meeting began on Friday—the first full day of the conference—when I decided to visit the Networking Uncommons before the exhibits area opened. The fact that I never made it to the exhibits area—one of my favorite informal learning spaces—that evening is a testament to what ALA Strategy Guide Jenny Levine has created: Finding a group of colleagues engaged in an impromptu conversation about technology in libraries, I realized I didn’t have to cruise the aisles of the exhibits hall to meet those colleagues—the group of people I needed and wanted to be seeing were gathered right there in the Uncommons.

The same thing happened the following morning when I walked over to the cavernous area housing the ALA onsite bookstore, the conference registration desk, and an area being used for demonstrations of Google Glass. On assignment for the American Libraries blog, I was hoping to photograph a few people trying that wearable technology, interview them, and learn more about how Google Glass might be a useful tool in the work my colleagues and I do. With my usual good luck, I arrived just a few minutes before former ALA President Barbara Ford did, so I was able to photograph her trying the device and then conducted a follow-up interview that was included in that blog article providing readers with projections of how the voice-activated device might work its way into libraries and other learning environments dedicated to facilitating training-teaching-learning.

My informal learning continued over lunch that day with Peggy Barber, a cherished colleague who always manages to bring me up to date on something I wasn’t smart enough to be exploring on my own. She had recently published an article on “contagious marketing” in American Libraries, so I asked her about one of the sources she had quoted (Jonah Berger’s Contagious: Why Things Catch On) and told her about a similar book I had read a few years before (Chip and Dan Heath’s Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die). What we learned informally from each other over lunch will deepen as each of us reads the book recommended by the other.

Libraries_Transforming_Communities--LogoThe sort of expanded onsite-online hallways I’ve noticed at earlier conferences reappeared while I was attending an onsite session Sunday morning on ALA’s “Libraries Transforming Communities” initiative. Presenters Maureen Sullivan and Cheryl Gorman. As they were discussing the positive impact the initiative has had in fostering collaborations and partnerships between libraries, library staff, and members of the communities they serve, I tweeted out summaries of some of the highlights. Some of those tweets were immediately retweeted by other conference attendees so that the information reached a larger audience than might otherwise have been possible, and at one point a tweet attracted a response from a novelist who objected to a comment made by one of the presenters. Seizing the opportunity to further expand the conversation, I read the comment to Sullivan and Gorman during a question-and-answer period, took notes on their response, and condensed it into a tweet to briefly extend the conversation with the novelist. The informal learning that morning traveled down some very long and intriguing ALA hallways that eventually drew responses from colleagues who aren’t even formally affiliated with ALA.

Similar exchanges continued throughout the days I’ve been here in Philadelphia, and the expanding hallways continue to take some intriguingly unexpected turns. Conversations in a wonderful session this morning on libraries as catalysts of change began within the formal setting of the session itself, expanded a bit through tweets and retweets, then unexpectedly continued briefly when the presenter—Lisa Bunker—and I ran into each other in the Networking Uncommons, and really deepened when the two of us decided to continue our informal conversation over lunch, which provided the most wonderful learning nugget I acquired during this Midwinter conference: “We don’t have to be perfect. We just have to show up.”

As long as those hallways that Levine and many others help create are available, I will be exploring them. And reporting informally on what I learn.


NMC Horizon Report 2013 (Pt. 4 of 4): 3D Printing and Wearable Technology

February 8, 2013

Once upon a time—say two or three years ago—the idea that 3D printing or wearable technology might be on a relative fast track toward widespread dissemination and become important elements of training-teaching-learning seemed far-fetched for many of us. That’s rapidly changing, the New Media Consortium (NMC) Horizon Project 2013 Higher Education report, released earlier this week, suggests.

Horizon_Report--2013It’s not as if either technology has spring forth full-blown from nothing. Early 3D printing innovations date back at least to the 1970s (the term itself appears to have been coined in 1995 by MIT graduate students), and wearable technology can easily be traced back at least to calculator watches from the same decade. I was among those who were still seeing wearable technology in a pseudo-dreamy “that’s for other people” sort of way just a few years ago (in 2009) when we were dazzled by a TED talk wearable technology demonstration by Pattie Maes and Pranav Mistry, but recent public sightings of Google Project Glass devices suggests the revolution is already underway. As for 3D printing, a quick, far-from-exhaustive online search suggests that predictions of mainstream adaptation of the technology have increased tremendously over the past year, which helps explain why the Horizon Report sees it and wearable technology as the two key technologies that are within a four- to five-year adoption horizon in which they will achieve widespread use among educators and learners. (Separate summaries of one-year horizon and two- to three-year horizon technologies have already been posted on Building Creative Bridges as part of this 2013 Horizon Report summary series.)

“3D printing is already pervasive in a number of fields, including architecture, industrial design, jewelry design, and civil engineering,” the Horizon Report writers remind us. “In the past several years, there has been a lot of experimentation in the consumer space—namely within the Maker culture, a technologically-savvy, do-it-yourself community dedicated to advancing science engineering, and other disciplines through the exploration of 3D printing and robotics” (Horizon Report, p. 28).

Where this becomes of interest to trainer-teacher-learners is through the examples cited in the report. Case Western University, for example, has Think[box], “a space for anyone to creatively tinker; Think[box] includes 3D printers, laser cutters, and tools for students to create their own printed circuit board of computerized embroidery” (p. 30); we can’t view the project introductory video without being stunned by what is already being accomplished in this academic setting.

The University of Mary Washington ThinkLab, which puts a makerspace into a university library setting, is another stunning example of “hands-on creative inquiry and learning with a variety of high-tech tools, including a 3D printer.” And for those hungry for more examples of how 3D printing can be incorporated into learning, the report provides links to Nancy Parker’s “7 Educational Uses for 3D Printing” and Jason Hidalgo’s “The Future of Higher Education: Reshaping Universities through 3D Printing.”

When we turn our attention to wearable technology, we find the world  becoming even more intriguing by combining concepts of augmented reality and mediated reality with mobile learning (m-learning): “Effective wearable devices become an extension of the person wearing them, allowing them to comfortably engage in everyday activities or to help them accomplish a specific task….Wearable technologies that could automatically send information via text, email, and social networks on behalf of the user, based on voice commands, gestures, or other indicators, would help students and educators communicate with each other, keep track of updates, and better organize notifications” (pp. 32-33). If we think about how much one of the near-horizon technologies (tablets) has already extended our ability to engage in m-learning, we see how breathtakingly spectacular an expansion might be possible with the even less obtrusive Google Project Glass device and other glass devices under development or already in use.

Again, the examples cited in the report are spectacular. The Muse headband, for example, offers the promise of using brain activity to control devices—something akin to Tan Le’s demonstration in a 2010 TED talk about using a device to control virtual objects via a user’s brainwaves.

A link to Nick Bilton’s New York Times article “One on One: Steve Mann, Wearable Computing Pioneer” takes us to a (currently) extreme version of the technology-in-progress: “When you use it as a memory aid, it is your brain,” Mann says at one point in the interview.

As we complete our review of the latest Higher Education edition of the Horizon Project, we’re left with plenty to consider—not the least of which is whether we’ll soon be reading upcoming Horizon Reports with our Project Glass devices. Or accessing the information in even more intriguing ways. 

N.B.—Episode #113 of Maurice Coleman’s T is for Training podcast series, recorded on February 8, 2013, includes a deeper exploration of the 2013 Horizon Report Higher Education edition, MOOCs, and learning and technology innovations. 


NMC Horizon Report 2013 (Pt. 1 of 4): Tech and Learning Trends in Higher Education

February 5, 2013

The release this week of the New Media Consortium (NMC) Horizon Project 2013 Higher Education report on “new and emerging technologies, and their potential impact on teaching, learning, and research,” reminds us once again what a great resource the reports are for trainer-teacher-learners around the world.

Horizon_Report--2013With its summaries of key trends and significant challenges along with the usual explorations of six technologies reviewed in each report, it serves as a thought- (and action-) provoking resource, an up-to-date reference source, and a potential course of study for anyone willing to follow the numerous links to online resources compiled by everyone involved in its preparation and production.

It also, as if becoming an example of one of the technologies it explores, could easily serve as an unfacilitated massive open online course (MOOC) on the topic of technology in learning for any of us with the drive and self-discipline to treat each section as a module of an online course; it is, furthermore, easy to imagine someone setting up a discussion group within LinkedIn, Facebook, or some other social media tool for learners interested in exploring the themes and technologies; it is, in fact, not much of a stretch to also imagine the possibility of live Horizon Report learning sessions via a tweet chat or virtual office hours within Facebook or a Google+ Hangout. Even the process of preparing the reports could be a topic for study and discussion among learners interested in understanding how a well-facilitated wiki can inspire learning and produce learning objects.

But let’s not go too far afield here, since the content of the report is already spurring plenty of online discussion. The technologies themselves are fascinating. Within the one year time-to-adoption horizon we find tablet computing and MOOCs. Within the two-to-three-year adoption horizon, we see gaming and gamification and learning analytics. And in the furthest horizon (four to five years away), we find 3D printing and wearable technology (think about Google’s Project Glass foray into augmented reality here). And for those who want a broader picture of what is on the horizon, there is the short list (four technologies per horizon) that NMC staff and report advisory board members developed as a step toward determining the final set of horizon technologies, along with the overall list of topics that served as the starting point for the entire process of  identifying key trends, challenges, and technologies.

nmc.logo.cmykThere are obvious themes that run through the report, and they’re not just of interest to those working in academia. The trend toward opennessopen content, open data, open resources—is at the top of the list of key trends documented in the report; it serves as a foundational element for at least a few of the others. It’s a natural step from that broad brushstroke of openness to the next important trend—the explosion of massive open online courses—and its close cousins, informal, self-directed, and collaborative learning that, in turn, lead us toward the learner-centric concept of personal learning environments. If all of this inspires you to suspect or acknowledge that huge disruptive changes are underway in the world of learning, then you’re well on the way to appreciating the level of thought the report inspires: “Education paradigms are shifting to include online learning, hybrid learning, and collaborative models,” the report writers note.

Equally important are the significant challenges documented in the report. Faculty, the report suggests, aren’t acknowledging “the fact that digital media literacy continues its rise in importance as a key skill in every discipline and profession”—a challenge that I believe could also be documented in workplace learning and performance (staff training) programs. We’re also facing—and not dealing particularly well with—new scholarly forms of authoring, publishing, and researching; our own resistance to change; learners’ demand for personalized (and learner-centric) learning; new models of education and learning that challenge long-standing models; and the need to adopt new technologies for learning and teaching.

The beauty of this and other Horizon reports released throughout the year—others focus on K-12 education, museums, and specific regions—is that they are free, accessible, well-researched and well-written, and transparent. Anyone wanting to review and use the advisory board members’ discussions for their own learning purposes has access to them on the project wiki. And those interested in playing a more active role in the Horizon Report process are encouraged to complete the online application form.

Next: On the One-Year Horizon (Tablets and MOOCs)


NMC Horizon Project Summit 2013 (Future of Education): Prelude

January 21, 2013

Given the magnificently overwhelming number of great learning opportunities available to trainer-teacher-learners, it’s difficult to choose one that stands out above all others. But the annual process of creating the New Media Consortium (NMC) Horizon Project Higher Education report has to be right up there for anyone interested in learning, technology, creativity, and possibilities.

nmc.logo.cmykIt isn’t necessary to be a member of the report advisory board to gain much of what the process offers. Through the creative and trend-setting work of NMC staff in facilitating research via a publicly accessible wiki, the work of advisory board members is completely transparent and accessible to anyone who wants to follow the development of the report.

And it’s a process well worth following. It begins each fall with a posting, from NMC staff, of recent press clippings, videos, and other online resources to introduce some of the tech tools, trends, and challenges to be explored; the resources listed here could, by themselves, serve as a semester-long course surveying the state of technology in education and other creative endeavors. Sifting through even a relatively small number of those offerings in late 2012 provided introductions to a wonderful app called “Field Trip”; took me even further into the use of Google+ Hangouts for educational purposes than I had already gone; and led me to updates on the Google’s Project Glass initiative into augmented reality.

In spite of how much there is to absorb from that resource, it’s just a prelude to the heart of what the wiki and the Horizon Project overall provides. Jumping to the topics page leads to a list of more than 30 topics to be considered by advisory board members, and that, too, could provide the foundation for another semester-long course as visitors and advisory board members explore 3D printing, augmented reality, flipped classrooms, learning analytics, massively open online courses (MOOCs), tablet computing, telepresence, virtual assistants, wearable technology, and many other subjects that appear to be on the horizon for many of us.

Discussions among advisory board members about the tech topics are conducted within the wiki and can be read by anyone visiting the site—as are advisory board members’ discussions about key trends and critical challenges. The voting process to determine which tech tools, trends, and challenges are most likely to have the greatest impact within one-year, two- to three-year, and four- to five-year horizons produces a short list that is posted on the wiki and which remains the penultimate step before advisory board members engage in one final vote to determine what will be included in the new Higher Education report. While the final report that NMC staff writes is an invaluable resource to anyone involved in learning, that short list is also extremely important in that it calls attention to technology and trends that might otherwise be overlooked.

But even this is not enough to keep our NMC colleagues fully occupied, Celebrating ten years of Horizon Reports, staff organized an invitation-only retreat in Austin, Texas in January 2012 to reflect on what technology would mean to educational institutions in the next decade. The result , after more than two days of well-facilitated discussions among approximately 100 participants, was another learning resourced—a retreat wiki—and a communique that documented a set of megatrends.

So as I sit here in Austin the night before the second annual retreat/summit begins, I think about all that so many of us have gained from the work of the New Media Consortium—and wonder what is yet to come.


High Tech at Tyger’s: Resistance Is Futile

January 19, 2013

Seeing someone wearing and using a Google Project Glass product at a neighborhood diner here in San Francisco was not among the experiences I expected to have over brunch this morning. Like so many other people, I’ve been fascinated by reports of the continuing development of this latest foray into the world of augmented reality. I have also been wondering when we would have a chance to play with what Google has been developing and start seeing how it will affect the world of training-teaching-learning. It’s been my long-standing assumption that my first face-to-face encounter with a Google Glass device would be at a tech or educational conference.

But there I was, taking in the familiar faces of the Saturday morning crowd at Tyger’s (in San Francisco’s Glen Park Village), when my eyes froze at the sight of someone obviously wearing one of the devices that has been so prominently featured in so many articles over the past several months.

Google_GlassesThe stunning thing about this sighting is that Tyger’s is far from a hotbed of technology. It actually feels as if it sprang full-blown from the pages of Ray Oldenberg’s The Great Good Place and continues to be a living example of a vibrant, dynamic Third Place—a place where you can walk in whenever it’s open, know that you’re going to find a familiar face, sit with friends over a nice relatively inexpensive meal, and participate in conversation rather than being surrounded by people more engaged with smartphones and tablets than with face-to-face exchanges. It’s the sort of place where candidates in local board of supervisors races drop in to talk one-on-one with residents of their district, and where strangers don’t stay strangers if they patronize the place more than a couple of times.

Because Tyger’s is set up to foster conversation—the tables are set very close to one another, and it’s impossible not to overhear bits and pieces of nearby conversations—I didn’t feel the slightest reticence about immediately walking over to the table where the Google Glass user was sitting with his family. It also helps that a) I assume anyone wearing a new piece of technology is going to be far from shy about talking about it, and b) I’m hopelessly curious and socially inept enough to think that chatting up a total stranger is part of what fosters learning and nurtures new connections.

Our brief conversation quickly confirmed that the device actually was a fully-functioning Google Glass device; that it is not yet available to the general public and probably won’t be available to most of us for “quite a while”; that he didn’t find it at all difficult to interact with those with whom he was dining while also taking advantage of what the device offers; and that he was in possession of the device because he (of course) works at Google.

Returning to the people with whom I was sitting (“you really are a geek,” one friend lovingly admonished me), I took advantage of the fact that I was far enough away from him to not be an obvious nuisance, but was close enough to get a first-hand look at how someone wearing a Google Glass product would function in what is overwhelming an onsite Third Place rather than an extension of a virtual community.

What I noticed was impressive. He was sitting with his wife and one other adult, and was holding an infant in his lap. There was no visible sign that he was anything other than completely engaged with his child and the other people present at that table throughout the entire meal. And the way the device was positioned on his head (a small silver band with the tiniest of cameras positioned near his left eye without appearing to obscure his vision) made it relatively unobtrusive. In fact, he seemed far more present than most people who use smartphones and tablets appear to be—which, for me, raises some interesting questions about all I’ve read over the past few years regarding our overrated ability to multitask.

In our snarkier moments, many of us have reacted negatively to the sight of people with their Bluetooth devices plugged into their ears, and have suggested that we appear to be one step away from becoming part of a Borg collective. We’ve also suggested that, like the Borg, we’re falling into a frightening pattern of sheepishly accepting that “resistance is futile.”

Yet when I watched that Google staffer behaving no differently than anyone else at Tyger’s was behaving, and noticed that no one else at Tyger’s was even reacting to the presence of someone with a new tech device that is not yet available for purchase by most members of the general public, I found my attitude shifting just a bit. I no longer feel as if “resistance is futile” is a completely negative reaction to the sight of someone wearing a Google Glass product; I’m now a step closer to understanding the appeal of the wearable technology that colleagues and I have been exploring through work on the 2013 New Medium Consortium Horizon Project Higher Education Report. And I’m even more curious about what it will be like to try on a Google Glass device myself to see what it will bring to the entire field of training-teaching-learning.

N.B.: The photo accompanying this article is a generic Google Glass image.


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