Adapting to Change, Loss, and Possibilities: The Clivias Are Blooming

April 2, 2020

The clivias are blooming in our atrium and in our backyard. They don’t care that, for the moment, our world is again completely topsy turvy. That we are sheltering in place in an effort to lessen the impact of what is obviously a terrible situation. That our loved ones (and we) are losing loved ones, and that the losses are increasing exponentially. That some of us are struggling just to make it through another day.

And yet…and yet…as difficult as it is to struggle through our current circumstances under shelter-in-place guidelines implemented in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, I’m finding plenty of inspiration from colleagues around the world. The ones, like George Couros, who are making time to blog honestly, rawly, and inspirationally about how they are reacting and what they are doing to support efforts to recognize that this is an opportunity to focus on “creating a ‘new and better normal’” rather than simply looking forward to entering “a new normal.” The ones like Jill Hurst-Wahl, whose continual postings of links to fantastic resources along the lines of the article, from The Chronicle of Higher Education, on “Why You Should Ignore All That Coronavirus-Inspired Productivity Pressure” as well as much-appreciated links to humorously thoughtful (and thoughtfully humorous) sites like the Pluto Living Facebook page with its (nearly) daily Pluto Service Announcements from Pluto the schnauzer and her online co-conspirator, Nancie Wight, remind us that “social distancing” doesn’t have to mean being distanced from friends and colleagues. The ones, like Laura Fothergill, who combine their family-oriented social-media postings with links to thoughtful observations about what it means to currently be working remotely: “You are not ‘Working From Home’, you are ‘At your home, during a crisis, trying to work’,” which is from a tweet by Suparna Chaudhry

Perhaps that is one of the keys to surviving, if not actually thriving, during the current separations: links. The word “link” has never felt more multi-faceted or encouraging, for it not only applies to what connects us to resources online, but it also reminds us of the cherished connections we work diligently to nurture and maintain with family, friends, and colleagues—during this time when we cannot be together onsite as well as during times when “distancing” is not an overarching theme. “Link” can be the quick-and-easy act of pushing a button on a computer or mobile device to reach something we want to reach, or can be the much more meticulous and rewarding act of carving out time to make family, friends, and colleagues the center of our universe in ways we often forget to do.

Which brings us back to clivias. In spite of all the demands on our time, we’re still finding ways to nurture them, so the clivias are blooming. Because we tend to them. Because we nurture them. Because we care about them. And we, inspired by their beauty, try to create as much beauty in our world as we can at a time when sadness threatens to overwhelm all thoughts of beauty. The beauty that comes from reaching out to someone by phone or online tools just to say “hello,” or ask how that person is doing, or offer condolences. The beauty that comes from members of communities reaching out to laugh together or share a link to something that will make us laugh. Together. Collaboratively. In friendship and support. With a commitment to finding ways to work together rather than allowing ourselves to be torn apart even further than we were before “distancing” became the tremendously unsatisfying word of the day. And with a commitment to apply everything we have ever learned into our efforts to better function—short-term as well as long-term. We see this on a daily basis in the way members of our various and varied onsite-online (blended) communities reach out to each other via social media posts as well as by taking the time to set up and participate in online sessions via Zoom, FaceTime, Skype, and other videoconferencing tools, as well as through some of the other tools we routinely use, e.g., Slack.

It’s all about our commitment to maintaining our relationships—in good times as well as in times of overwhelming adversity. Keeping our commitments to each other. To the communities which we serve. To the individuals who are essential elements of those communities. In a world that appears to be much different than the one we knew a month or a year ago. But is the one that’s left to us. A world where the clivias are blooming.

–N.B.: This post is an expanded version of something I wrote for my Instagram and Tumblr accounts, and is the first in a series of reflections inspired by colleagues’ reactions to the coronavirus and shelter-in-place experiences and our continuing interactions online.


ShapingEDU Unconference 2020: Taking It All Online During the Coronavirus Pandemic (Pt. 2 of 2)

March 26, 2020

An innocuous little note at the bottom of the “living” online agenda for the 2020 Arizona State University ShapingEDU Unconference (for “dreamers, doers, and drivers shaping the future of learning in the digital age”) earlier this month proved, in retrospect, to be one of the most prescient and useful comments anyone could have injected into the planning process: “While the start and end tines each day will not change, all activity times are fluid/subject to change…because it’s an unconference.”

The two previous ShapingEDU unconferences (in 2018 and 2019) had been tremendous examples of what can happen when a blended (onsite-online) community of learning meets face to face on an annual basis with an understanding that the agenda—and the Unconference itself—is subject to change in any way that fosters positive conversation and action. (As I noted in the first of these two sets of Unconference reflections, the 2018 Unconference produced a framework—10 Actions to Shape the Future of Learning—for action and archived materials, including graphic facilitator Karina Branson’s visual representations of what occurred there; the 2019 Unconference produced an online 18-page communique of “actionable ideas and strategies that can humanize learning, promote greater access to and equity in learning experiences, better connect education to the future workforce and world, and nurture highly collaborative communities of practice” that continues to be shared globally.) The overall structure of both events—an clear, concise statement of purpose provided the framework for discussion, planning, and implementation; the flexibility of the living agenda allowed and encouraged participants to alter the agenda at any time during which it became apparent that changes would produce greater results than the previous version of the agenda nurtured—fostered the perfect response to the swift transformations that literally took place overnight during the event this year. It also suggests a framework for trainer-teacher-learners to emulate as we move forward in designing and facilitating the best possible learning opportunities for those we serve.

The key moment in the ShapingEDU community’s response to the spread of the coronavirus occurred at the end of the first full day of onsite-online activities. Unconference organizers, responding to the fear that airlines might soon be cancelling flights and leave onsite participants separated from their families, made what was for them a very difficult decision: cancelling the onsite portion of the Unconference and simultaneously moving the mostly-onsite event completely online.

More importantly, they used every avenue available to quickly disseminate news of the decision and provide clear instructions on how we would continue during the second day of the two-day event. There were face-to-face conversations in the lobby of the hotel where many of us were staying. There was an email message sent to all participants. There were posts in the ShapingEDU Unconference Slack channel. To say it as bluntly as possible: there was complete transparency about what was happening and there was a magnificent effort to convey the news in the most positive way possible.

It’s well worth sharing a slightly-edited version of the note that was drafted by Samantha Becker, who serves as a driving force and supportive colleague in virtually everything related to the community and the Unconference, and that went out to all of us:

“Dear Dreamers, Doers and Drivers:

“Thank you so much for your brilliant participation and rallying today to advance some awesome and actionable outputs to better education. You made it insightful and you made it fun. You have truly embraced the spirit of the unconference!

“We have made a decision to pivot to online-only activities tomorrow, beginning again in our Zoom room [the link was shared here to make it easy for attendees to continue participating] at 9am AZ time / 12pm Eastern US Time. This was a very difficult decision to make, and one that has been made to take every precaution for our community, given the updates unfolding around us in real-time. Those here in person that wish to take earlier flights can.

“That said, we except a robust online program tomorrow, kicking off at 9am with a special talk from Adobe’s Todd Taylor on digital and creative fluency. Our graphic facilitator Karina Branson will be online and making her graphics all digital! Watch us flex. :wink:

The goal tomorrow online is take all the actionable ideas and products we came up with in our neighborhood working sessions, narrow them down and start firming up concrete plans for the ShapingEDU community to weigh in on. Even if you couldn’t make today or only part of today, you can jump in tomorrow and contribute in a major way.

Zoom Room: [again, the link was provided]  (9am – 1pm AZ / 12pm – 4pm Eastern US)

If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out. The Slack workspace has been lively and we’ll pick our conversations back up there in the #unconference2020 channel.”

Reading that note can’t help but leave us with an appreciation for how quickly, effectively, and positively Samantha and other Unconference organizers (with input from available attendees) made and publicized the transformation. We can’t help but notice how effectively they used every resource available to them. And, above all, we have to acknowledge how well-prepared (through its consistent exploration and use of online communication tools) community members were for this massive shift in plans—the same sort of massive shift that is occurring in training-teaching-learning worldwide.

Visual Summary, by Karina Branson (ConverSketch), of Virtual Planning Session

The result was that when we reconvened (online) the following morning, most of us were present. Ready to work. And deeply appreciative for the creative, playful way with which the change was managed. One of the first spur-of-the-moment adaptations came from Laura Geringer, the community engagement, writing, and project leadership consultant who does much of the day-to-day work of reaching out to ShapingEDU community members to keep us informed and involved. Acknowledging that this was a group that thrived on collegiality and effective use of videoconferencing platforms like Zoom, she encouraged all of us to activate the webcams on our laptops so we could produce a global wave. And even for those of us who found our webcams choosing that moment to malfunction, the gesture was a success. We waved. We laughed. And then we got down to business, putting the technology in the background and bringing the interactions into the foreground to produce a set of proposals for projects the community will consider pursuing as a result of the time we spent together at ShapingEDU 2020.

ShapingEDU 2020 Virtual Wave

So, let’s hear it for flexible/adaptable communities of learning and all that their members do to make them successful through an approach of considering everyone a co-conspirator in the training-teaching-learning-doing process. A willingness to work with technology that sometimes produces spectacular results and sometimes leaves us frustrated by short-term failures. And living agendas that are created with an understanding that “all activity times are fluid/subject to change”…because that’s one of many approaches we can take to produce first-rate learning opportunities and the results they can produce.

N.B.: Trainer-teacher-learners worldwide are creating and sharing magnificent resources to help colleagues make the transition from onsite to online learning. Among those are Cindy Huggett’s “Virtual Presenter’s Guide to Using Zoom Meeting Tools” and the numerous suggestions posted in the Facebook  Pandemic Pedagogy group. If you want to share your own resources, please don’t hesitate to respond to this post via a comment.


Shaping Education Unconference 2018: The End is the Beginning (Pt. 4 of 4)

May 3, 2018

I’ve always appreciated a thought I’ve found in the work of a variety of writers I admire—the end is the beginning—so it was wonderful to find that the formal end of the Unconference for Dreamers, Doers, & Drivers Shaping the Future of Learning in Tempe and Scottsdale, Arizona late last week immediately initiated series of new beginnings that are continuing to unfold as I write this piece nearly seven days later.

It was an inspiring, transformative day and a half of presentations, discussions, and planning by teacher-trainer-learner-dreamer-doers from several different countries on a few continents, preceded by an informal evening reception to initiate the entire gathering arranged by Arizona State University Chief Information Officer Lev Gonick with the assistance of Samantha Adams Becker and many others. It immediately produced many productive conversations and initial plans for action. It extended beyond its formal conclusion through a couple of post-Unconference sessions that expanded the group of participants to include members of the Arizona State University community. And, in a stunningly quick follow-up, those involved with organizing the Unconference announced, within days, that as many materials and resources as could be gathered had already been posted on a publicly-accessible website—a site, which in essence, provides a virtual Unconference experience for anyone interested in participating asynchronously. More importantly, the website creates an additional avenue to assure that what happened in Arizona won’t stay in Arizona.

It was—and is—dreaming, doing, and driving at a global level. And it is, in essence, a wonderful example of a high-end blended (onsite-online), synchronous-asynchronous experience at its best, with the possibility of rhizomatically-growing conversations and actions that, if successful, could lead to positive changes that will benefit the global community that previously was drawn together and served very well by the New Media Consortium (NMC). The Unconference is simply the latest wonderful manifestation of that community, in a post-NMC environment, seeking familiar as well as new places (onsite as well as online) to continue the work it does so well—in long-term NMC partner organizations including EDUCAUSE and CoSN (the Consortium for School Networking) as well as community member-generated groups including the Slack Beyond the Horizon community which has spawned FOEcast (Future of Education forecast) for those who did not want to lose the global community of teacher-trainer-learner-doers NMC had so effectively nurtured across a variety of sectors in our lifelong-learning environment. There is also a newly-formed LinkedIn group created expressly to continue Unconference conversations regarding the present and future of micro-credentialing not only in higher education but also in many other parts of our lifelong learning sandbox—and many other offshoots that will gain more of our attention in the weeks and months to come as dreams begin to be transformed into actions.

Lev himself, in an email message to the 129 of us who participated onsite in Tempe and Scottsdale last week, does a great job of setting the context for anyone interested in knowing what the website offers:

“Our minds are still racing with all the ideas and insights you contributed on shaping the future of learning in the digital age. It’s amazing what can transpire when a collection of diverse perspectives are in the same place at the same time. Thanks for coming with an open mind, ready to share your knowledge, dreams, and concerns.

“As you know, our talented graphic facilitator Karina Branson of ConverSketch created visual representations of the Unconference discussions as they unfolded. Additionally, lightning talk speakers presented their big ideas and questions. All of these materials, from Karina’s visuals to the slide decks, are available on a special website we’ve created for this community:

The site also includes a link to the Twitter feed produced through #ShapingEdu hashtag which many of us used to extend the conversations beyond the physical walls of the Unconference meeting room and the outside-the-room conversations that continued in restaurants, the hotel lobby, the hotel parking lot, and numerous other locations so that conference “participants” included many colleagues who weren’t physically with us but, in a very real blended-world-sort-of-way, very much with us; accessing and adding to that Twitter conversation was just one of the numerous ways in which the Unconference can be said to have already taken on a extended life far beyond the short period of time during which we were interacting face to face.

­­And, in what can be seen as a commitment to leave no Unconference stone unturned, the website organizers have even added a “Media and Blog Reflections” section that, as I write this, includes a few of the articles that are already available from participants and will, without doubt, include many more that are either freshly-posted or on their way to being posted. (Karina herself has an interesting set of insights, on her own blog, about into how graphic facilitation primed the pump for many of the productive conversations that began during the opening reception.)

We have a lot of work ahead of us. And we know that those who were skeptical of and/or critical of what the New Media Consortium and its numerous partners and community members produced, will probably be equally critical and skeptical of what the Unconference dreamers and members of our extended global community of learning are in the early stages of pursuing. But our openly-expressed desire to be inclusive and transparent in our work—in this lovely, dynamic, innovative community of Edunauts in higher education, the kindergarden-through-12th-grade sector, community colleges and vocational schools, museums, libraries, and workplace learning and performance committed to supporting lifelong learning at its best—means we look forward to working with you and anyone else interested in being actively engaged in the process of dreaming, doing, and driving that was so wonderfully visible at the Arizona State University Unconference last week.

N.B. — This is the fourth of four sets of reflections inspired by the Unconference for Dreamers, Doers, & Drivers Shaping the Future of Learning in April 2018.


Shaping Education Unconference 2018: Micro-Credentialing and Exploding the Classroom (Pt. 3 of 4)

April 30, 2018

If any of us had mistakenly thought that all the dreaming, planning, and neighborhood-building that took place all day last Thursday during the Unconference for Dreamers, Doers, & Drivers Shaping the Future of Learning in Tempe and Scottsdale, Arizona had drained us, we quickly learned otherwise when we formally reconvened for a final half-day of activities Friday morning.

A few lightning talks by participants primed the dreaming-planning-doing pump once again, and we were soon back in some conversational neighborhoods that had been established Thursday within the Unconference meeting room on the Scottsdale campus of the University of Arizona. At the same time, we were establishing a couple of additional neighborhoods Friday morning—including one centered on the topic of micro-credentialing in the temporary physical city of LearnerDreamerUnconferenceville. (I suspect this particular city is going to have a very long and productive life as a blended community existing in rhizomatically-growing online discussion groups and face-to-face meetings whenever we can again find ways to gather.)

For me, the fast-paced, very focused micro-credentialing discussion brought together interwoven threads of nearly a half-decade of conversations onsite and online with colleagues—all grounded in recognition that higher education is facing a tremendous challenge in finding/redefining its place in a world that increasingly questions the value of a four-year education and the higher-degree programs that are often extremely expensive and time-consuming. As one colleague mused shortly after the final formal Unconference session ended: Formal education will change radically within 10 years. We don’t stay in a job for five years; why would we stay in college for four? (And while I think there are plenty of great reasons why some of us will continue to see, value, and cherish those four-year experiences with occasional returns to onsite/online formal educational settings, that question is one that is well worth asking of anyone committed to lifelong learning and survival in the sort of rapidly-changing environment that my colleague Jonathan Nalder is attempting to address through his tremendously creative Future-U/First on Mars efforts.)

Following the pattern we used in our Thursday neighborhood conversations, participants in the micro-credentialing neighborhood set out to accomplish three things: define our unifying dream, establish what we hoped to do in one-, three-, and five-year periods of time, and document what was driving us toward those dreams and actions. The dream, with graphic facilitator Karina Branson helping keep us on track, quick came together: to connect formal and informal learning credentialing and create a confirmed, shared taxonomy so it would be useful to learners and those needing to know how those learners’ experiences match what is needed in contemporary workplaces. Looking toward the three- and five-year time horizons, we dreamed of helping create a system wherein empowered learners can express goals that would be documented through micro-credentialing; foster more opportunities for compound diplomas; and nurture a lifelong-learning pattern in which earning and learning remain intertwined.

Karina Branson/Conversketch

ShapingEdu–ASU Unconference_Micro-Credientialing_Group_WorkActions to be taken in the first year of our efforts include attempting to partner with on-campus registrars to see how this system can be created, nurtured, and sustained; see what standards need to be created to serve the overlapping interests and needs of learners and employers; and establish a mechanism to continue the conversation—efforts already taking shape through the creation of a LinkedIn discussion group and efforts to provide a forum for the discussions/planning/actions through our Slack Beyond the Horizon community which has spawned FOEcast (Future of Education forecast). Projected long-term actions to be taken by the micro-credentialing group include attempting to design a visual framework for micro-credentialing and continually seeking ways to foster collaboration with all identifiable partners in the (lifelong) learning process—not just those involved in higher education.

There are a number of factors driving many of us toward an effort of this magnitude at this particular time, and there are certainly numerous barriers behind which any skeptic could easily retreat. But that in-the-spur-of-the-moment question about why anyone would commit to four-year learning programs in a world where job and career changes are so prevalent offers one of the best reasons to pursue this effort. And an offhand comment made by my colleague and fellow Unconference participant Tom Haymes made about the need for “exploding the classroom” in the most positive of ways playfully pushes the conversation forward even more.

If we’re going to avoid the prediction that at least one colleague made at the Unconference—that our four-year colleges and universities could disappear or be much different in ten years than they are today—then all of us Edunauts who love the richly rewarding and highly varied onsite, online, and blended environments available to us today need to be actively engaged in the process of dreaming, doing, and driving that was so wonderfully at the heart of the Arizona State University Unconference last week.

N.B. — This is the third of four sets of reflections inspired by the Unconference for Dreamers, Doers, & Drivers Shaping the Future of Learning in April 2018.

Next: After the Unconference


Shaping Education Unconference 2018: Moving Into the Neighborhood (Pt. 2 of 4)

April 30, 2018

One of the more playful and productive exercises at the Unconference for Dreamers, Doers, & Drivers Shaping the Future of Learning in Tempe and Scottsdale, Arizona late last week involved building neighborhoods. We weren’t using hammers and nails, and no hardhats were required. This was an exercise in identifying key issues in higher education and other learning environments; pulling tables together to create neighborhoods of conversation within the conference room in which we were meeting; and then diving into those conversations designed to identify what the residents of the newly-established Unconference neighborhoods held as their unifying dream, what we hoped to do in one-, three-, and five-year periods (horizons, anyone?) of time, and what was driving us toward those dreams and actions.

Because of my ongoing interest in finding ways to nurture and sustain a global online community (FOEcast—the Future of Education forecast group unified through a “Beyond The Horizon” group on Slack) that has emerged from the closing and Chapter 7 bankruptcy proceedings initiated by New Media Consortium (NMC) board members in December 2017, I immediately moved into FOEcastville and dove into planning with others inspired by this post-NMC community which is evolving with the addition of members who had no direct, previous connections.

Defining our dream was a fairly easy undertaking because the effort had already been underway for a few months: developing a highly-functioning, sustainable community of action that will extend to sectors beyond higher education and will include spin-offs to connect to other learning organizations worldwide.

Establishing a list of actions to be completed within one-, three-, and five-year periods also was straightforward. Our year one goals include engaging in strategic planning; continuing to establish mission, vision, and value statements that will guide us and others who join our efforts to identify and promote positive changes within the various lifelong-learning environments in which we work; producing documents that will be useful to those joining us in our efforts to continue contributing to global efforts to shape the future of learning—and make those documents available under Creative Commons licensing; and seeking ways to continue working together online (e.g., through the Slack “Beyond the Horizon” group) and onsite (e.g., through gatherings including the Unconference for Dreamers, Doers, & Drivers Shaping the Future of Learning).

Our three- and five-year goals contained an implicit acknowledgment that this is still very much a rapidly-evolving community that draws from the community that existed under the auspices of the NMC and also draws from the extended, rhizomatically-growing community of our non-NMC colleagues who share an interest in collaborating to have a positive impact on lifelong learning throughout the world. With that in mind, a major item on our list is to continually engage in revisions of our implantation plans so we can react to the changes that will undoubtedly occur in our learning environments. We also made the commitment to look for opportunities to establish and/or work with organizations tackling parts of the effort to reshape learning (e.g., those focused on higher education—like EDUCAUSE, which obtained the NMC’s assets through the Chapter 7 proceedings and is proceeding with plans to publish the 2018 Horizon Report > Higher Ed Edition halted by the closing of the NMC—as well as others working in our extended lifelong-learning playground: colleagues in the K-12 sector, community colleges and vocational schools, museums, libraries, and the extensive network of workplace learning and performance (talent development) colleagues. (Those that come to mind for me include colleagues who gather under the auspices of first-rate learning organizations such as ATD—the Association for Talent Development or who are filling unmet learning needs through opportunities provided by LinkedIn/Lynda.com).

It was heartening to see so many representatives from so many of these organizations and industries working together during the Unconference to develop plans of action to help reshape learning; Arizona State University Chief Information Officer Lev Gonick did an amazing job of pulling together a broad coalition of stakeholders in the conversation from a variety of countries. Our colleagues from EDUCAUSE were active participants in the process of attempting to determine how our post-NMC world will take shape. Several members of the former NMC community accepted the invitation to present lightning talks to stimulate the conversations. The result of these combined efforts and commitment to innovation was that any participant interested in being part of our ongoing efforts to better serve our learners had plenty of opportunities to find a place to engage in what will be an ongoing, dynamic shaping process—with an eye on producing concrete, measurable results.

It’s worth paying attention to how and why the Beyond the Horizon/FOEcast conversation—and so many others—progressed so quickly. This was a group that already had been interacting online for a few months and was drawing upon years of experience as a community of teacher-trainer-learner-doers (learning facilitators as activists in the best sense of that word). We approached our work with a sense of collaboration and a commitment to positive action; there was very little argument, but, on the other hand, this was far from an exercise in groupthink—plenty of ideas surfaced, and those which appeared most promising seemed to find advocates willing to carry them further in the weeks, months, and years ahead of us, while those ideas which did not immediately catch fire can certainly resurface as needed. The space itself, on the Arizona State University campus in Scottsdale, was conducive to the types of interactions Lev and others did so much to foster: the room had plenty of natural light flowing in from outside; the room itself was spacious and had furniture that could easily be moved to create the best possible set-up for an exchange of ideas. (The FOEcast group quickly created a T-shaped arrangement of tables that made it possible for most people to hear each other easily and contribute to the conversation.)

We also need to acknowledge the importance of the conversation facilitators in an endeavor at the level of the Unconference and those neighborhood-development sessions. FOEcast co-founder Bryan Alexander led our FOEcast neighborhood’s discussion. Lev contributed tremendously through his facilitation of the entire Unconference. And graphic facilitator Karina Branson seemed to have the ability to be in the right place at the right time to keep conversations progressing in positive directions throughout the entire Unconference.

As our highly-motivated group of Edunauts reached the end of a day of dreaming, sharing, and planning for a future we very much want to help create, we did exactly what the event was designed to stimulate: continued our conversations well into the evening in small groups over dinner. And when we reconvened Friday morning for our final hours together onsite, we were ready to take our efforts even further.

N.B. — This is the second of four sets of reflections inspired by the Unconference for Dreamers, Doers, & Drivers Shaping the Future of Learning in April 2018.

Next: Exploding the Classroom


Shaping Education Unconference 2018: Homecoming for a Community of Dreamers, Doers, & Drivers (Pt. 1 of 4)

April 27, 2018

I didn’t even make it through the hotel lobby to check in before being gratefully and willingly drawn into my first conversation with cherished colleagues here at the Unconference for Dreamers, Doers, & Drivers Shaping the Future of Learning in Tempe and Scottsdale, Arizona Wednesday afternoon.

Unexpectedly seeing Jared Bendis, Tom Haymes, and Ruben Puentedura—people I had known, adored, and learned from for years through the New Media Consortium (NMC) before its board of directors closed the organization and put it into Chapter 7 bankruptcy proceedings—made me immediately feel as if I were home again.

It has been a long emotional journey to arrive here at the Unconference. Many of us had been shocked and tremendously saddened by the sudden demise, in December 2017, of the NMC. Committed as much to the global community of teacher-trainer-learner-doers (this, after all, is in the best sense of the word, a community of learning “activists”) fostered by the organization as to the organization itself, we quickly mobilized via a “Beyond the Horizon” group on Slack—a popular social media tool that can be used to effectively facilitate productive online conversations within a community of interest. Bryan Alexander, Lisa Gustinelli, Jonathan Nalder, and I were among those immediately turning to the challenge of exploring ways to continue working together even though the organization that had brought us together had disappeared. It only took a few days to begin reconvening members of the community; within a few weeks, we had drawn approximately 200 members into that Slack community. What was and is fascinating about the Beyond the Horizon group is that it is was not and is not simply a group of people gathering to hold a wake; new members—colleagues who never had any formal interaction with the New Media Consortium, but who shared the community’s commitment to creativity, learning/learners/lifelong learning, innovation, and educational technology—began joining by invitation so that, in essence, it was rapidly evolving at the same moment that it was reconvening.

We asked some fundamental questions—often prompted by our colleague Bryan, whose Future Trends Forum remained one of several important touchpoints for us as we struggled to regain our footing—about where we had been as a community and where we might go in our suddenly-changed training-teaching-learning-doing environment. Within a few weeks, the community had already come up with a rudimentary framework for action, which Bryan helped nurture and document on his own blog. We continued to look toward a future firmly rooted in our history and traditions as a community of learners. And, with a core group of planners and a still-expanding group of partners, began establishing a new identity—under the community-established name FOEcast (Future of Education forecast)—held an online “ideation” week to continue developing a formal plan of action.

But what really gave the community a major push was an invitation from our colleague Lev Gornick to gather here in Arizona for the unconference that will conclude this afternoon. Having attracted nearly two dozen sponsors—including EDUCAUSE, which obtained the NMC’s assets through the Chapter 7 proceedings and is proceeding with plans to publish the 2018 Horizon Report > Higher Ed Edition halted by the closing of the NMC—and reached out to a community that extends beyond the NMC community, Lev is giving us a much-needed opportunity to build upon what many of us have accomplished together so we can continue working to produce positive transformations within the global learning community in which we live, work, and play.

Karina Branson/ConverSketch

That hotel-lobby conversation that extended over a mid-afternoon lunch blossomed at the Unconference opening reception, where a fabulous graphic facilitator, Karina Branson, helped create the foundations for the conversations and work that went on all day yesterday and will conclude early this afternoon. Karina, by listening to individual participants informally recall their first experiences with digital learning, created a wonderfully illustrated timeline. Not as a way of reveling in perceived past glories. But, rather, as a way to remind ourselves that we have a tremendously rich legacy upon which we can build as the group continues to evolve into something even better and more productive than what we had before the NMC disappeared.

It would be easy to fall into maudlin, clichéd observation that the more than 100 of us gathered here in the Phoenix area arrived to be present for and participants in the rebirth of a community of learning. But that would be a terrible misrepresentation of what I sense is really happening here. This isn’t a rebirth, from the ashes of a wonderful, innovative, inspirational organization, of the community created and nurtured by NMC for more than two decades. This is the reconvening of the members of a dynamic, thoughtful inquisitive, and highly-motivated group of Edunauts—a term coined by Jonathan Nalder and at least two other people, independently of each other!—who as the title of the Unconference suggests, continue to meet and welcome new members into a group of dreamers, doers and drivers interested in being part of the process of shaping a future for learning—to the benefit of those we serve.

And as we left the opening reception Wednesday night and at least a couple of us continued our conversations well into the evening in the parking lot of our hotel, it was clear that our work was not about to begin; it was about to continue with a wonderfully crafted agenda and plenty of work on the table.

N.B. — This is the first of four sets of reflections inspired by the Unconference for Dreamers, Doers, & Drivers Shaping the Future of Learning in April 2018.

Next: A Day Full of Dreaming, Planning, and Doing


Changing the World With Jeff Merrell (Part 2 of 2)

March 19, 2018

This is the second part of a two-part interview conducted with Jeff Merrell, Associate Director of Northwestern University’s Master’s Program in Learning & Organizational Change, for my book Change the World Using Social Media (Rowman & Littlefield; projected publication date is autumn 2018). The interview was conducted online using a shared Google Doc, and has been lightly edited.

 

Jeff Merrell

In a world where employers encourage employees to be available around the clock via the use of mobile devices, is the old rule of thumb “don’t talk politics at work” even a realistic approach anymore, given that lines between personal and professional activities are being inadvertently erased–through actions rather than by design?

Ah. There’s the $1,000,000,000 question.

Look, for me, it starts and ends with the organizational culture. I would not attempt to have “let’s talk social issues” discussions on a large scale if my company or organization did not do that naturally, in other forms. I am going back to my blog post rant a bit here, but I think some things like #MeToo, news around things like Charlottesville, can inspire some short-term discussions of topics within an organization’s online spaces. Maybe it allows people to—in a tiny way—share something that they’ve wanted to say. I’ve heard examples of this. But, for longer term impact, I think organizations need to think about how they “talk” about these issues routinely, in hybrid ways, where the online conversations are extensions or variations of what happens in other ways.

If your organizational culture isn’t strong enough to handle that, or your organizational philosophy does not incorporate some strong element of social impact, then you are not going to get very far.

It’s. Not. About. Social media.

Thanks. That’s really helping me to clarify something I’ve been exploring through these interviews: the impact that social activism through efforts including #MeToo have in settings far beyond what those involved may have originally thought would occur. I’m finding that few people are looking at the professional social media tools, e.g., LinkedIn, Slack, and Yammer, as means to foster social change. Thoughts on how those might fit in to what you just said in terms of conversations among our professional colleagues onsite as well as online?

Well, let’s start with LinkedIn. LinkedIn is about your “brand.” So right there, you are screwed unless you as an individual are seeking to be branded as social activist. But I would suspect—maybe I am wrong—that someone with that mindset would find LinkedIn just not a fit. It’s about people trying to create professional brand in the traditional corporate model.

Slack and Yammer, and similar, allow more co-construction of “space.” A group of social activists, within an organization, could easily start up a Slack community of trusted peers etc., set norms for participation, and maybe have a go of it.

But again, if the organizational culture is not accepting, respecting of that kind of conversation, then it will likely just be some dark secret thread. Where there is hope is when these spaces become places where people might be able to explore difficult topics and the organization is OK with that.

About halfway through the “There is hope in pushing a conversation” section of your “Revisiting: A critical pedagogy for organizational learning?” post, you talk about a “kind of collision between the ‘outside’ social world and internal organizational world…” Have you seen positive change result among those with whom you work as a result of the interactions taking place in the layered communities you mentioned earlier in this conversation?

Let me start over with a couple of examples.

Two of the most powerful “open” discussions we’ve had within our community (so…open to the entire community, but not open to the public) have been about 1) Being a Muslim—visiting student—in the U.S. and 2) the challenges of being a female in tech.

In both cases, these are very strong, female leaders who opened these discussions. And each was spurred by some outside event. Each also said—they would not write what they wrote anywhere else than within the community we created. And each, also, were very savvy social media users—blogging, on Twitter, etc.

And the discussion threads—and related conversations outside of the online space—I found productive for the community as a whole. That was also the general sense of the leaders in this program, and from what I could gather, the community itself,

Positive change coming from it? Not sure I can point to the lives of Muslim students being any “safer” or that women in tech are better off now. But there is a history here that now proves and demonstrates that our [learning] community—MSLOC—can take on these topics and explore them and learn from them.

That sort of takes us into the area of the same blog post that discusses “intentionally subverting the norm” as a way of fostering change. Any additional guidance you would offer readers in terms of the impacts that approach can have within organizations as well as onsite and online communities?

Yes, this is an interesting question. I recognize that there is some “power” at play here in what I am about to write, but I think a key is calling out (in a positive way) when “subverting the norm” happens. So, say I am a community manager or a leader and recognize that some set of voices are challenging our assumptions, but the challenge is productive in some way. For me, a key is just calling that out: Hey, this is great! We may not agree on all of it, but we love the critical thinking. And maybe engage in some true active listening—online or off—that results in some change in practices or routines.

I see those moments in facilitating classes. So, my perspective comes from that. If I am doing my job well, I am recognizing and encouraging multiple voices to be heard and to challenge assumptions.

How can you foster trust and safety in online environments when incivility is rampant?

Within organizations, don’t hire people who are incivil. 🙂

I say that half-jokingly. But it gets to my culture bit. If you bring in people who want to be civil participants, and you create a culture that allows for all voices to be heard and respected, then you’ve got a chance. But if all you are about is brand, making as much profit as possible by taking advantage of employees or customers, and beating the competition by any means possible, you’re hosed.

 N.B. — Paul is currently writing Change the World Using Social Mediascheduled for publication by Rowman & Littlefield in Winter/Spring 2020. This is the eleventh in a continuing series of excerpts from and interviews for the manuscript in progress.


Changing the World With Jeff Merrell (Part 1 of 2)

March 19, 2018

This is the first of a two-part interview conducted with Jeff Merrell, Associate Director of Northwestern University’s Master’s Program in Learning & Organizational Change, for my book Change the World Using Social Media (Rowman & Littlefield; projected publication date is autumn 2018). The interview was conducted online using a shared Google Doc, and has been lightly edited.

 

Jeff Merrell

Let’s start with an attempt to set context: can you provide a brief summary of the enterprise technology and organizational learning course you’re currently facilitating or simply cut and paste the course description into this document here?

Let me do both.

http://www.sesp.northwestern.edu/masters-learning-and-organizational-change/designing-for-organizational-effectiveness-certification/creating-and-sharing-knowledge.html

This course explores enterprise social networking technology and its impact on organizational knowledge and organizational learning in the workplace. The course will introduce theory, concepts and frameworks to help you understand knowledge sharing and learning within communities and networks of practitioners, the unique attributes of social networking technology as it applies to organizations, and current uses of network technology to change the way people work or learn (i.e., crowdsourcing and personal learning networks). Finally, you will learn to apply course concepts through prototyping, class projects and business cases.

Topics

  1. Social-practice perspectives of organizational knowledge and learning
  2. Enterprise social networking technologies
  3. Communities and networks in organizations
  4. Innovative models (MOOCs, communities, personal learning networks, crowdsourcing, narrating-your-work)
  5. Prototyping new models
  6. Assessing opportunities for new digital solutions to organizational challenges
  7. Aligning digital solutions to strategic organizational challenges

My own words here:

Our M.S. program, for the past 6+ years, has used Jive as our “learning” platform. We intentionally tried to create more of a workplace feel for our program, rather than using an academic LMS [learning management system]. Jive is an enterprise social network platform that allow us to have dialogue and interactions within courses—privately—and across our entire community of learners, faculty, staff, and alumni. All within one space—and it very much looks like a corporate social intranet.

So, in my course, I have the advantage of leveraging our platform to talk about the issues of enterprise social media. But we also look at things like Yammer, Slack, and, sometimes, other platforms—Chatter—to get a sense of what the field looks like.

But at the end of the day, the course focuses on how enterprise social media and people co-construct/co-constitute the environment. We’re not techno-determinists.

A phrase you just used—“across our entire community of learners, faculty, staff and alum”–perfectly captures what has been so attractive to me in all the work I’ve seen you do since we first met in a MOOC several years ago. Is there a strong sense in your course community that the classroom is the entire world since you so frequently engage participation that encourages collaboration between those enrolled in a course and those who are practitioners, participating with you and your learners through social media?

I think what student come away with, appreciating—I hope!!—are the “layers” of community and networks created by different levels of privacy. So, our class group—community—of maybe 25 to 30 people is only visible to those enrolled in the course. We work hard to create a safe learning space there. The next layer above that is the MS Learning and Organizational Change “community”—some 250 to 300 people. And then, finally, the outside world—Twitter, etc.

What we look at is: What does it feel like to exist across those communities? And why is that important to understand?

The conversation tend to get at safety, trust—“knowing people,” as in close social ties. Keep in mind that all of our students meet face to face as well, so they do know each other.

But for anyone leading in today’s organizations, my bias is that it is important to understand these layers of privacy and community and how that impacts experience.

Remembering that readers of this book are people interested in better understanding how to use social media to foster social change, what specific guidance would you offer them in the following areas: What does it feel like to exist across those communities? And why is that important to understand?

Persistence and visibility—two of the affordances of enterprise social media—scare people, especially in a professional setting. In smaller-scale communities, with a community manager or facilitator who maybe speaks the professional language of the community, you can begin to create a safe place to share. You can create norms that—hopefully—prevent and mitigate the risk of unproductive comments.

But that does not mean that the culture you create in that smaller community necessarily translates to something more public. The more visibility, the more people just freak out, or self-monitor what they do or do not say.

So, if my goal is to have open discussions about critical, tough issues—and I want a variety of voices to be truly heard—don’t assume that because people are open in one tight community that they would be willing to say the same elsewhere. We have amazing, sensitive conversations in our class groups. They rarely “leak out” to the larger community, even when we nudge students to do so. It’s a difficult trick.

N.B. — Paul is currently writing Change the World Using Social Mediascheduled for publication by Rowman & Littlefield in 2020. This is the tenth in a continuing series of excerpts from and interviews for the manuscript in progress.


Changing the World Through LinkedIn and Collaborative Online Tools

March 18, 2018

Shortly before the devastating recession of 2008 began, I accepted invitations from two business associates to join LinkedIn—the social media tool designed to help business colleagues stay in touch with each other and with those who might be able to provide job and other business opportunities. As the recession deepened in 2009 and my work and flow of income diminished to a trickle, I became more committed to staying in touch with a variety of colleagues and potential clients through updates I posted on LinkedIn—which, at the time, was the only social media tool I was exploring and using.

My posts on that account—generally no more than five each week, and sometimes none at all because I didn’t post anything unless I thought it would be of interest or use to those in my slowly growing LinkedIn network—were always very focused. I would share links to articles and other resources my colleagues and prospective clients might not otherwise see. I posted brief (Twitter-length) updates documenting the efforts I was making with colleagues on a board of directors engaged in what was ultimately a successful effort to help a struggling chapter of what was then ASTD (the American Society for Training and Development) and later became ATD (the Association for Talent Development) survive and once again begin to thrive. I occasionally posted summaries of what I was learning and doing as a volunteer in the marketing department of the Asian Art Museum here in San Francisco. There were also posts leading to articles and other resources I was devouring while completing work on my Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) degree through an online program at the University of North Texas.

About halfway through 2009—a period of time when my income had dwindled to a trickle and prospects for new contract work were non-existent—I started hearing comments from friends and colleagues who, with the words “You seem to be everywhere these days,” made me realize I still very much had a presence in my business communities even though I wasn’t seeing much in the way of cash flow or new contract work. Curious about the disparity between the reality of my situation and the comments I was hearing, I started asking people to define what “being everywhere” meant to them. The unanticipated answer, of course, was that those LinkedIn posts about the volunteer work I was doing to support major local community groups and the consistent sharing of resources my friends and business colleagues valued left them with the (incorrect) impression that I was weathering the recession well.

Recognizing the value of being actively, positively present on LinkedIn and continuing to contribute to my various overlapping and increasingly well-integrated communities—business, volunteer, learning, and social—helped me to focus even more on remaining engaged at a time when engagement felt almost completely futile. I spent at least an hour each week looking for ways to make my own LinkedIn account a valuable resource to anyone who spent time looking at it—beefing up sections with links to articles I was writing; reviews of books of interest to those to whom I was connected in LinkedIn; and links to slide decks others could use or adapt in their own work.

The combination of remaining tremendously active as a community volunteer throughout 2009, completing work on that MLIS degree, and sharing highlights of what I was doing led, unexpectedly, to an entirely new (paid) business opportunity in early 2010: becoming part of a team of trainers who, for six months, traveled throughout Northern California helping hospice workers learn to use software on mobile devices to more efficiently serve their patients. This, in turn, led to projects that introduced me to collaborative social media tools including Yammer and, more recently, Slack (Searchable Log of All Conversation and Knowledge) and Trello—tools designed to facilitate blended conversations that help bring projects to fruition.

In thinking about how LinkedIn can be an important, productive, and often-overlooked element in our toolkits to foster positive social change, I keep returning to the idea that LinkedIn as well as Yammer, Slack, and many other social media collaboration/project-management tools are seen primarily as business resources—tools that can be and occasionally are used by activists, but seldom seem to be to the full extent possible. A fabulous comprehensive paper written in 2012 by Andrew M. Calkins and published in 2013 as a Julie Belle White-Newman MAOL Leadership Award winner at St. Catherine University, “LinkedIn: Key Principles and Best Practices for Online Networking  Advocacy by Nonprofit Organizations,” leads me to believe that little has changed over the past six years in terms of LinkedIn making the transition from being a potentially rewarding resource to becoming a resource widely used by those committed to fostering positive change in their communities.

With a bit of creativity and effort, I suspect we can better take advantage of the potential of LinkedIn, combined with many other social media collaboration/project-management tools, to better reach and engage members of our professional/business communities into our efforts to help change the world.

N.B. — Paul is currently writing Change the World Using Social Mediascheduled for publication by Rowman & Littlefield in 2020. This is the ninth in a continuing series of excerpts from and interviews for the manuscript in progress.


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