“Family,” for me, has always been an expansive term—one that has only taken on even more importance and meaning to me during what is now about to become a third month during which I am gladly following shelter-in-place guidelines adopted in response to the current coronavirus pandemic. “Family” obviously includes spouse/partner, parents, siblings, children, grandchildren, cousins, and much more. It’s something we are celebrating today through recognition of International Day of Families—a celebration that came to my attention quite accidentally as I was watching the latest in the wonderfully funny Pluto Livingvideos written and produced by Nancy Wight. And, for me, it includes the numerous friends and colleagues with whom I am in touch—sometimes frequently, sometimes sporadically, but always in ways that involve trust, respect, affection, and a sense that my life would be far less rich and fulfilling if they were not part of it.
Sheltering in place and engaging in social distancing has not in any way left me feeling socially isolated; I’m lucky to have “family” as committed to working at maintaining strong, positive relationships as I am. In a pre-coronavirus world, I frequently came across those family members while walking around San Francisco. Or sitting in any caffè that served as a meeting place for us. Or during business trips that gave me an excuse to work in various places around the United States. Or while attending onsite conferences. Or while engaged in online gatherings such as the biweekly recordings for Maurice Coleman’sT is for Training podcast or monthly meetings and webinars facilitated by members of the ShapingEDU family. Or via Slack…or…or…or…
Maintaining an overly busy schedule has often resulted in my stepping away from some of those “family” gatherings, as has been the case with my involvement—or lack thereof—with a first-rate family in the form of a magnificent community of learning: #lrnchat, a family that has been meeting weekly (Thursdays, 8:30 – 9:30 pm ET/5:30 – 6:30 pm PT) via Twitter, in the form of a well-facilitated tweet chat that always is centered around a pre-announced topic of interest to trainer-teacher-learner-doers. I have, occasionally, taken the time to reflect on and write about what that family means to me. But I fell out of the habit of participating in those weekly gatherings a couple of years ago when shifts in my work habits made those meetings much harder to squeeze into my schedule.
Although being lucky enough to stay very busy while following shelter-in-place guidelines, I have used this unusual period of time to re-examine how I spend my time, and one of the changes I have made is carving out time to dive back into my #lrnchat-family gatherings on a biweekly basis—on those weeks when T is for Training isn’t recording within part of that same time slot. And, as is always the case with family reunions, it has been a wonderful opportunity requiring very little transition. I just show up. Others continue to show up—or rejoin after similar periods of absence. We spend a few minutes with introductions and in-the-moment observations. Then we get down to the heart of what draws us together: interactions with those we love and admire. Listening to (or, since this all takes place as an online typed chat, reading) what other members of our family want to say and share. Responding—sometimes seriously, sometimes with tongues deeply in cheek, but always with curiosity and respect. And, most importantly of all, learning. Together. In ways that make us better than we were before the latest family conversation began. And, as a result, make us better at serving those who, in turn, look to us, for support in their own lifelong learning endeavors.
The conversations, facilitated by family heads Jane Bozarth, Tracy Parish, and David Kelly, always draw us in quickly. Engage us from start to finish. And leave us with important questions, including “what did you learn from this conversation?” and “what will you do with what you learned?” Those are critically important questions for any trainer-teacher-learner-doer, and, because of what I have learned over the years from my #lrnchat family, those are questions I put to every one of my co-conspirators in learning at the end of classes, workshops, webinars, and other learning opportunities I design and facilitate. They are questions that continue drawing me back to #lrnchat and my other families. They are fruitful questions to ask every day that we continue following shelter-in-place and social-distancing guidelines. And they are questions that, when asked, serve as fabulous reminders of why we cherish our families. All they offer. And whatever demands they place upon us and the limited time we have. For if we don’t have time for family, for whom do we have time?
Trainer-teacher-learners, as I noted while facetiously promoting a game called Speed PowerPointing a few years ago, have a magnificent ability to transform challenges into learning innovations. That ability was on display again yesterday when new and returning members of the #lrnchat community engaged in our weekly (Thursdays, 8:30 pm ET/5:30 pm PT) tweet chat and, in the process, seemed to create a new format we might call “Macho Tweet Chatting.”
#lrnchat participants, as the community blog explains, “are people interested in the topic of learning from one another and who want to discuss how to help other people learn in formal, informal, social and mobile ways.” The weekly chats (originally 90 minutes, now 60 minutes) have a well-established format: begin with brief introductions; warm up by responding to a question about what we learned that day (or that week if we somehow went all day without learning something); respond to six inter-related questions on a pre-announced theme; and conclude by posting wrap-up tweets during which we re-introduce ourselves and are encouraged to engage in shameless acts of self-promotion (which usually help us learn what our colleagues are currently doing/promoting/producing). When the virtual smoke clears from those hour-long sessions, we find that we’ve taken approximately eight or nine minutes to respond to and build upon colleagues’ comments about each of those six questions.
But that wasn’t what we encountered when we joined a session on the topic of Persistence in Learning yesterday. The community organizers, with little explanation until we were well into the session, had decided to create lightning rounds by tossing 10 rather than six questions (in addition to the usual introductions, wrap-up, and what-did-you-learn questions) into the mix. It was only when someone asked why the chat seemed to be moving much more quickly than usual that we learned what was behind the innovation: those preparing the questions about persistence had difficulty in winnowing down the number of proposed questions, so they changed the format rather than eliminate thought-provoking content that would foster our learning process yesterday.
The usual format fosters numerous initial responses, some retweeting of those responses so that others not engaged in the live session have a glimpse of what our discussions produce, and a variety of playful offshoots as individual community members engage one-on-one before another question from the community moderators more or less draws us all back together into a somewhat cohesive online conversation. The increased number of questions within an unexpanded period of time simply upped the ante: we had to respond much more quickly than usual; we struggled to engage in the retweeting that is such a fundamental element of expanding the community into the larger communities in which each of us individually interacts; and the playful one-on-one side-conversations were even more frenetic than usual.
It was clear that this was the sort of learning opportunity that would require some after-class effort to fully appreciate what we experienced—and learned—via the lightning-round format. Immediately creating an initial stand-alone transcript via Storify rather than waiting for community moderators to post it on the blog later this week made it obvious to me that many of the tweets were shorter than usual. (I suspect that the 140-character ceiling on tweets was higher than many of us could reach given the time limits we faced in composing each tweet.) Skimming that transcript so soon after the session ended also made me realize how much more content I had missed than I normally do—and made me appreciate how helpful it was to have created a useful learning object in the form of a Storify document—rereading content provided plenty of valuable opportunities to continue benefiting from the wisdom of this particular crowd by luxuriating over some of the observations; laughing at some of the funnier exchanges; and relishing the sense of support upon which a community like #lrnchat is built and sustained.
A post-session reading also produced some insights that may not have been intended by those posting comments. When we see someone post “eyes glazing over” in response to a question about when it is better to surrender rather than persevere, for example, we can also retroactively read the comment as a reflection of the idea that some of us may have felt our eyes glazing over because of the fire-hose flood of information coming our way. When we see even one of our most agile, literate, and pithy colleagues acknowledge that “it’s hard to catch up on this fast-moving #lrnchat,” we’re reminded that in connected learning environments and connectivist massive open online courses (MOOCs), the best lesson learned is that it’s not actually necessary to “keep up”—learning is often about what we can and choose to absorb rather than being about what someone else wants us to absorb. And if we’re empathetic enough to carry our own frustration over not keeping up into an appreciation for the frustration overwhelmed learners feel, we’ve absorbed an important lesson through the experiential learning #lrnchat so frequently fosters. And when we re-read my own tongue-in-cheek suggestion that #lrnchat may need to adopt The Flash and Quicksilver as our mascots, we might also take the suggestion as a reminder that training-teaching-learning at times seems to require superpower-level skills.
What remains most encouraging and most important is that, at the end of the day (and the Macho Tweet Chat), those who stayed with it acknowledged how invigorating and—in the most positive of senses—challenging the session was. We came. We chatted. We laughed. We learned. And, in the best of all worlds, we experienced an exercise (and form of exercise) we may be able to share with some of our most advanced learners so all of us continue learning together.
It’s difficult to know where to start in describing how the learning connections expanded rapidly and rhizomatically during that one-hour session that was fast-paced and well-facilitated by #oclmooc co-conspiratorVerena Roberts. There’s a temptation to talk about the obvious connections to be made between #oclmooc and the equally fabulous Connected Courses MOOC (#ccourses) community of learning since at least a few of us are participating in both and extending conversations between the two MOOC communities. There’s also the temptation to talk about how the #oclmooc session and so much of what we’re doing in #ccourses is making us more aware and appreciative of the importance of personal learning networks in learning—particularly since #ccourses just produced an engaging and inspiring session on “Social Capital and PLNs: Discovering, Building, and Cultivating Networks of Learners,” as I documented in a blog article posted yesterday. There is even a temptation to focus on the fact that what was originally designed to be a MOOC to connect educators in Alberta (Canada) quickly morphed into a MOOC open to—and attracting participation from—trainer-teacher-learners around the world (an obviously brazen and much-appreciated attempt by our Alberta colleagues to make the entire world a protectorate of Alberta and its innovative onsite-online learning community!).
But what was most interesting to me at a personal level was how the open conversation taking place within Twitter drew in colleagues not previously connected through either MOOC. This has happened to me in other MOOCs, as I wrote in an earlier article, and I would be surprised if it hasn’t happened to others engaged in connected-learning environments. What was noteworthy and unexpected this time was how quickly everyone naturally and playfully fell into exchanges that suggest the blossoming of new learning—and, more importantly for explorations and documentation of how connected-learning works, the blossoming of new learning relationships, as Verena quipped when it became obvious that one of my New Mexico-based colleagues from the New Media Consortium had seen one of my tweets and retweeted it to her own followers. Not more than a few minutes passed before a Kansas-based colleague from an entirely different community of learning—the American Library Association Learning Round Table—saw my online admission that I hadn’t yet participated in edcamp activities.
“You, of all people, need to crash an edcamp,” she commanded with mock consternation shared openly with other #oclmooc participants. “Get with it.”
And to emphasize yet another element of these connected-learning rhizomatically-expanding interactions—the idea that our online interactions are not and need not all be conducted synchronously—I later realized, while reviewing a record of the #oclmooc tweet chat, that a North Carolina-based colleague that I know well from yet another first-rate community of learning (#lrnchat) had also responded with an edcamp response directed to two #oclmooc members and one other #lrnchat colleague.
The tally of net gains (networked gains?) from the session, then, include a strengthening of the #oclmooc community, which was designed to foster greater communication between teacher-trainer-learners; more cross-pollination between #oclmooc and #ccourses through the tweets and this follow-up blog post; the possible beginning of interactions between various members of my own personal learning network outside of the MOOCs and members of the two connectivist MOOCs—with no need for me to remain anywhere near the center of those interactions; additional interactions between all of us and a group of young connected-learning students we were encouraged to contact through their own group blogging efforts; and the pleasure of encountering new ideas through articles—including Clay Shirky’s essay “Why I Just Asked My Students to Put Away Their Laptops,” and Laura Hilliger’s article “Teach the Web (MOOC)”—mentioned during the live tweet chat. And there clearly is much more to come.
And then there’s the unexpected visitor: Coline Son Lee, one of my colleagues from the American Society for Training & Development (ASTD). She is a cherished part of my personal learning network but not—yet—part of the PLNs of colleagues in my #xplrpln community of learning. I first become aware of her presence in the chat when she retweets one of my comments. I respond with a tweet to everyone else in the session so they will know who she is and how she found us: “Another sign of personal learning networks in action: @pmtrainer, an ASTD colleague just joined us, meaning my PLN is in action.” Jeff, our session facilitator, seizes the learning moment with his response: “Cool! Welcome! One of the benefits of discussing ‘in the open.’”
Coline, having stumbled (virtually) into the chat by seeing my comments in her own Twitter feed, steps up to the plate by asking what topic we’re pursuing. Jeff further draws her in—I’m no longer her sole conduit to the chat and to the group—and he provides an in-the-moment example of a connected educator in action by offering a response that includes a link to the page with information about our Week 3 goals and objectives, readings, and activities. At which point we have seen another example of exactly what we are studying: in less than 15 minutes, a piece of my personal learning network has collided with those of other course participants, and the two begin to seamlessly merge to the benefit of everyone involved. And even though Coline is not able to continue on with the discussion for the entire session—she inadvertently omits the tweet chathashtag that would make her comments visible to the rest of us—the introductions have been made; the players have the seeds for new growth in our personal learning networks; and we all have a visceral understanding of how PLNs work by evolving naturally, serendipitously as well as through our intentional actions, as all of us engage in our roles as connected educators, connected learners, and participants in Connected Educator Month activities and celebrations.
We also see and note that even though this session is primarily relying on synchronous exchanges, there are also asynchronous participants in the sense that we are drawing upon and building upon comments made by colleagues who attended the Wednesday evening session: we have access to the transcript of that earlier session, a few of us paraphrase or include quotes from the earlier session, and there’s even a brief drop in during this Thursday morning session from one of our Wednesday evening colleagues. After the session ends, we’ll continue the discussion via exchanges in our Google+ community, various tweets back and forth, and blog postings that attract responses from other members of our connected leaning community—all helping to reinforce the idea that the more we explore and the more we learn, the more we find to learn and explore.
My PLN and learning experience suddenly begin moving back in time as well as forward. I recall a moment that occurs two days earlier: the moment in which author Malcolm Gladwell suggests during an interview with Jon Stewart on The Daily Showthis week that Gladwell’s latest book, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants, is the sort of book that raises more questions than it answers—and that’s OK, he adds. I think about the inevitable moments in the days and weeks to come when members of my personal learning networks continue to share resources on the question-raising questions with which we joyfully grappling. And I realize that Exploring Personal Learning Networks is very much the MOOC version of Gladwell’s latest book: we arrive with some basic assumptions; explore those assumptions while listening to other people’s assumptions; find that every potential answer takes us wonderfully deeper into the topic and, as a result raises additional questions; and we all leave with a greater appreciation for the nuances of what we are exploring, having learned experientially how wonderfully complex this and the rest of the world can be if we are not insistent on approaching learning as something to be initiated, completed, checked off a to-do list, then shelved or recalled fondly each time we look at a diploma or certificate of completion as if learning is ever finished.
And doesn’t all of that just leave us with the most inspiring questions, PLNs, communities of learning, and learning experiences of all?
N.B.: This is the sixth in a series of posts inspired byConnected Educator Monthand participation in #xplrlrn (the Exploring Personal Learning Networks massive open online course).
ASTD (American Society for Training and Development) Human Capital Community of Practice manager Ann Pace, in a brief column in the May 2013 issue of T+D (Training+Development) magazine, succinctly takes us to the heart of the matter: we’re spending considerably more on social learning than we were a year ago (a 39 percent increase over that 12-month period), and we’re increasingly overtly acknowledging that each of us can serve as a “facilitator and enabler of learning” as we “create the structure that allows [the] shift [from learning occurring at specified times in predetermined locations to being something that is continuous, formal as well as informal, and experiential as well as including teacher-to-learner knowledge transfers] to occur.”
Some refer to this perceived shift as a learning revolution; others of us, as we review the writing of those who preceded us and talk to teacher-trainer-learners in a variety of settings (e.g., K-12, undergraduate, and graduate-level programs; corporate training programs; and learning programs in libraries and healthcare settings), have the sense that this isn’t so much a revolution as a recognition that the best of what we do has always involved the transfer of knowledge from instructor to learner; the acquisition of knowledge by learning facilitators through their interactions with learners; a combination of formal learning opportunities with opportunities that foster informal learning in synchronous and asynchronous settings; and much more.
There are even obvious, positive signs that we all are continuing to benefit from our expanded ability to reach colleagues through online resources in addition to our continuing attendance at conferences, workshops, and other events designed to facilitate the exchange of information, ideas, and innovations. The tendency many of us have had of allowing ourselves to be locked into learning silos—it is as silly as librarians in academic settings not seeing and learning from what their public library colleagues are doing in training-teaching-learning (and vice versa), or ASTD colleagues in local chapters not being aware of what colleagues in other chapters or at the national level are doing—seems to be diminishing as conversations between colleagues are fostered by organizations such as ASTD, the American Library Association, and the New Media Consortium (NMC), which gathers colleagues from academic settings, museums, libraries, and corporate learning programs together onsite and online to share resources, spot the metatrends and challenges in teaching-training-learning, and encourage collaborations that benefit a worldwide community of learning.
We see, within that NMC setting, conversations about the shifting roles of educators in academic settings that parallel the comments that Ann Pace made through her T+D column. We realize that the shifts we see in our individual learning sandboxes consistently extend into many other learning sandboxes in many other industries where learning is the key element differentiating those who are successful from those who aren’t. And we see realize that by meeting, collaborating, and then sharing the fruit of those collaborations throughout our extended social communities of learning, we are part of the process of implementing ASTD’s goal—workplace learning and development (staff training) professionals’ goal—of making a world that works better.
One learner, in his final course posting, noted that he “had the opportunity to use Google hangouts as part of a reference interaction at work recently. An online student was having trouble finding resources for an assignment…and we used hangouts to work through some of the difficulties.”
Another learner, wanting to explore Google+Hangouts further, arranged a session with five other course participants and quickly found the tool taking a back seat to a very engaging discussion in which they shared ideas and learned from each other in a way that made them feel as if they were sitting together rather than separated by tremendous geographic distances.
Several documented the fact that they had set up various social media accounts for the libraries they serve. At least a few have initiated live tweet sessions and begun discussing work-related issues in the private Facebook group we established so that our community of learning—which now includes participants from both offerings of the course—can continue to grow and flourish. And a few others were inspired to go beyond the course content and explore other tools, including Pinterest.
Engaging in a rudimentary version of learning analytics produces an interesting snapshot of how the course functions—and provides some positive responses to those who contend that online learning can’t possibly rival the face-to-face experience. Starting with a core group of 32 registered learners, we had five who never engaged at any significant level, and only four more who weren’t actively participating by the time the course ended. There was the usual spike of activity during the first of the four weeks of the course, with nearly 1,800 views of posts within the formal class forums that week; that had leveled off and remained steady at approximately seven hundred views during the final few weeks. Actual postings, however, were fairly consistent throughout the run of the course, with between 100 and 150 individual comments posted on course forums each week—which doesn’t even begin to take into account the dozens of postings made via Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google+ as we explored each of those platforms.
Most interesting to me, since I was expecting a steady decrease in discussion-forum postings, is that the largest number of individual discussions actually occurred during the final week, when learners were not only posting brief descriptions of their final projects, but also engaging in brief summaries of how their perceptions (and misperceptions) about social media tools had changed.
But it’s really not the numbers that tell the story here; it’s the observations the learners offered regarding how their perceptions had changed in positive ways and how they walked away from this brief, very concentrated experience with social media much more likely to use the tools than they had been before they took the course.
As I’ve said in response to many of their comments, this is the real icing on our learning cake. Because learning is about positive transformation, the fact that they are documenting increased use of social media tools and finding ways to use those tools to the benefit of those they serve in libraries throughout the United States and a few other countries means that our time together is offering rewards to the organizations they serve. They are also now engaged in a community of learning that was created during the initial offering of the course in 2012, has grown as a result of the latest four-week offering, and stands a good chance of growing even more as these participants use their online discussion groups to stay in touch, exchange resources, and explore issues of interest and importance to them in the months and years to come.
#etmooc is incredibly engaging and well organized—which makes it one of the best online learning experiences I’ve ever had—but there’s no avoiding the constant risk of drowning in the deluge if those of us actively participating in #etmooc are not diligent about managing our time and resources. There’s the main site itself; the blog hub that aggregates postings from nearly 500 course participants; several branches that lead us to other social media platforms (e.g., Twitter and Google+) where various discussions are carried on day and night; extended sessions that occur live and then are archived in Blackboard Collaborate; and numerous offshoots through links to online articles and other resources, including postings on YouTube. (When you’re among 14,000 learners who are distributed all over the world, there is no possibility of closing down the course for the night, so one of the many lessons learned through this education technology and media course is how to focus on what’s essential and to not worry about what we don’t have time to explore.)
Deciding to join the #etmooc weekly tweet chat yesterday afternoon initially didn’t seem to present much of a challenge. I logged into TweetChat so I’d be able to focus on nothing but the flow of #etmooc tweets, and set up my account to pull in anything tagged with the #etmooc identifier (the course hashtag). As the discussion began, I was struck by a couple of unexpected observations: the number of participants seemed alarmingly small given how many people are registered and participating in the course, and the moderator seemed to have set up an unnecessary extra step by referring us to a different site if we wanted to monitor the questions that were meant to seed the hour-long conversation. I was even more puzzled by that decision when the moderator mentioned another very popular and well-organized tweet chat (#lrnchat) as a model for the #etmooc session, yet wasn’t following the obvious #lrnchat practice of posting questions directly into the chat as it proceeded. Bouncing back and forth between the site with the questions and the TweetChat stream of comments wasn’t impossible, but it was a bit frustrating, so I actually started copying the questions into the live chat session in the hope that it would stimulate others to contribute more dynamically to the conversation.
But this just didn’t feel right in a course as well designed as #etmooc is. And it wasn’t right. Because in my haste to join the session, I had missed a notice on the #etmooc site providing the chat hashtag as #etmchat to differentiate it from the general course Twitter feed to be found at #etmooc. What finally tipped me off was noticing, nearly halfway into the session, that a few notes had both hashtags—which, of course, prompted me to change my TweetChat setting to #etmchat and immediately discover the flood of exchanges I’d been expecting from the beginning.
Making that quick virtual leap from a meandering stream to a raging river of tweets was, to say the least, temporarily disorienting. And there was no way, given the flow of words, to review what had come before if I wanted to keep up with what was yet to come. So I took the plunge, joined the larger conversation, and had 30 minutes of exchanges with colleagues worldwide on the topic we’re currently studying: digital storytelling.
By the time the session reached its conclusion, I had made a few wonderful new connections. Learned an incredible amount on the topic under discussion. And received a very important reminder regarding a key element of online learning: don’t forget to read the details in online postings if you don’t want to end up floating on a stream via the wrong hashtag when a river of information is just a virtual stone’s throw away.
N.B.: This is the fifth in a series of posts responding to the assignments and explorations fostered through #etmooc; it also serves as another example of digital storytelling.
Celebrating Life. Making positive connections and collaborating with people from around the world. Living everyday with positive energy, possibility, passion and peace of mind. Learning from a School Counsellor lens. I'm not a Counsellor because I want to make a living. I am a Counsellor because I want to make a difference. Gratitude for ETMOOC roots.