ALA 2016 Midwinter Meeting: Associations and the Size of the Room

January 8, 2016

The power of association—and associations—is never more clear to me than when I’m participating in an association conference, so I’m in Association/Associations Heaven right now as the 2016 American Library Association (ALA) Midwinter Meeting is blossoming here in Boston.

alamw16--logoWhile I often hear colleagues—generally those who opt out of participating in the professional associations that represent and bring together colleagues within their professions—cite all the reasons why they don’t see value in joining and being active in their industry’s association, I can’t imagine not being part of ALA, ATD, and others that facilitate the critically important connections and opportunities that the act of associating and associations themselves so effectively foster.

And even though I’m currently benefitting from being among thousands of colleagues arriving here in Boston, I also recognize that association is no longer something that is at all completely dependent on physical proximity. Anyone with Internet access quickly realizes that the size of our conference “room” is expansive, that the room is permeable, and that it is fairly inclusive; it includes the physical meeting spaces, as well as the extensive set of corridors in which so much important and rewarding associating occurs, and can extend to being a regional, national, and international association space if we’re a bit creative in the way we approach the act of associating.

The latest associating—via the very active #alamw16 hashtag that is bringing offsite and onsite colleagues together in a variety of ways—began for me several days before I arrived. It has also been facilitated through the use of a well-designed and highly-used conference app that allows us not only to browse schedules and access a treasure-trove of conference information and learning resources, but to locate and contact conference attendees through a list of those who registered.

T is for Training Logo

T is for Training Logo

Those who care about associating and about this Association conference also are welcome participants in the conversations via their/our exchanges on what is increasingly an incorrectly-named hashtag (#alaleftbehind), for the very act of interacting via #alaleftbehind means they are not as far out of the loop as they may initially feel they are. I have, in fact, written extensively about being on both sides of the “left behind” equation—about participating virtually and about helping draw in participants who are not onsite. I remain excited by the many opportunities we can be exploring together in an effort to make sure no interested colleague is completely left behind. And, in the spirit of bringing onsite and offsite colleagues together, a couple of us, as I’m writing this piece, just finished our latest experiment in virtual conference engagement by having a conversation that started here in the conference Networking Uncommons and linked us to our T is for Training colleague Maurice Coleman via a phone call that brought the conference into the taping of Episode 176  of his long-running podcast series.

To give credit where credit is due, let’s not overlook the critically important role association management and staff play in fostering strong association through an association. ALA Marketing Director Mary Mackay, for instance, has done her usual first-rate job of reaching out to offsite Association members via LinkedIn and other social media platforms with a series of tips on how to keep up with the onsite activities via a variety of social media and Association resources (posted January 6, 2016). But much of it comes back to our own desire and longing for connection and the connections that come from being part of an association and contributing to the strength of that association through active participation.

If you haven’t yet engaged in this level of association, and want to try it, there are several easy steps to take. Identify the conference hashtag (in this case, #alamw16) and interact at a meaningful level; retweet interesting tweets you see from onsite colleagues and, more importantly, comment in a way that adds to the conversation, e.g., by adding a link to a resource that extends the conversation. (Don’t be surprised when onsite colleagues, seeing your comments, ask the inevitable question: “Are you here?” And revel in the idea that in a very significant way, you are here/there.)  Watch for links to blog posts from conference attendees, then post responses and share links to those posts so the conversations—and the learning—grow rhizomatically. If you read those posts days, week, or months after they are initially posted, remember that it’s never too late to join the very-extended synchronously asynchronous conversation by posting responses and/or sharing links. And if you have onsite colleagues who are willing to be among your conduits to the onsite action, don’t hesitate to “go onsite” with them via a Google Hangout, Skype, or even a phone call.

There’s a role for everyone in this process of associating and expanding the size of the room. If you’re reading this while you at the ALA Midwinter Conference (or any other conference), you can contribute by reaching out to those you know are interested. And, with any luck, you (and the rest of us) will expand the connections that already are at the heart of successful associations—and association.

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NMC 2015 Summer Conference: Full Participation & Circling Back to Conversations

June 9, 2015

When a few hundred of your favorite educational-technology colleagues from all over the world gather to explore trends and developments in teaching-training-learning, you certainly don’t want to miss a single minute of it. So you arrive a day or two before formal activities start. Spend inordinate amounts of time engaged in face-to-face conversations in the various hotel lounges and lobbies. Skim the conference Twitter feed (#nmc15 for this one). Pore over the conference program book and website trying to decide how to be in five places at the same time. Reach out via social media to colleagues who couldn’t be onsite so they won’t be left out of the conversations. Grab every available opportunity to join colleagues for breakfast, coffee, lunch, coffee, dessert, coffee, dinner, coffee, dessert and coffee. And just when you believe you’ve covered all your physical and virtual bases, you unexpectedly find delightful additional ways to be so plugged into and help plug others into the overall conference conversation that it feels as if it will never end.

NMC_2015_Summer_Conference--LogoWhat we’re talking about here is a magnificent part of the connected learninglifelong learning process at conferences that becomes exponentially more rewarding with every new effort we make to be part of the conversations that contribute to the growth and innovation fueling first-rate teaching-training-learning efforts, as we’re seeing again this week during the New Media Consortium (NMC) 2015 Summer Conference here in the Washington, D.C. area. Formal conference keynote presentations, breakout sessions within a variety of pathways, and other activities start tomorrow; half-day preconference workshops took place today. Onsite conversations were already underway two days ago as a few of us arrived Sunday evening. And pre-preconference online conversations have been taking place for at least a few weeks. All of which raises an interesting question: given all the resources we have to interact face-to-face as well as virtually and synchronously as well as asynchronously, when can we actually say an intensive onsite-online learning experience begins and ends, and what (if any) geographic boundaries define a conference site?

TwitterTwitter has been an essential part of my conference experience for the past few years. By skimming the feed from a conference hashtag a few times a day (and understanding that it’s far from necessary to read every tweet if I want to gain a sense of what is occurring), I’m able to asynchronously join conversations and “attend” sessions I otherwise would not have time to sample. By live-tweeting sessions and monitoring the feed from those sessions, I’m able to share content with offsite colleagues, occasionally draw them into what is happening onsite, and interact with others in particularly large meeting rooms. And, by commenting on colleagues’ tweets during and after sessions, I’ve found Twitter serving as yet another portal to meeting colleagues I might otherwise not have met—even though we were (or are) in the same room during a conference session.

And that’s where conversations can both meander and circle back upon themselves in the most unexpected ways and at the most unexpected times. I’ve met colleagues face-to-face for the first time by responding to their tweets during a session, and then seeking them out before any of us have a chance to leave a room at the end of a session—which, of course, leads to extensions of the conversations fostered by those facilitating the conference sessions we were attending. I’ve also had the wonderful opportunity to serendipitously pick up the threads of a conversation hours later when small groups of colleagues gather in those aforementioned hotel lounges and lobbies. Conversations occasionally extend over Twitter for several days after a conference formally ends, and can also continue as those of us who blog read and comment upon each other’s posted reflections on those blogs.

Coffee in a local shop

Coffee in a local shop

But today brought a wonderfully new and unexpected variation on the theme. Needing some time away from all those preconference conversations and preconference workshops, I decided to go offsite for the first half of the day to have brunch and visit one of Washington’s magnificent museums. As I was finishing brunch, I couldn’t resist the temptation to engage in what was going to be first of three check-ins to the conference Twitter feed throughout the day. And there it was: a colleague’s wonderful summary of high points from a three-hour workshop—which I was able to skim in less than 10 minutes, with a few additional minutes set aside to retweet a few comments I thought off-site colleagues might appreciate reading. After a couple of hours in the museum and a little more reading time in a local coffee shop, I made the quick cross-town trip back toward the conference hotel via Washington’s subway system, and planned to catch the shuttle that completes a circle between the hotel, the closest subway station, and the airport (which is only a very short distance from the hotel where we are staying) every 30 minutes.

The shuttle arrived as expected. What I hadn’t in any way anticipated was the discovery that the presenter from that morning preconference workshop was sitting across the aisle from me on the shuttle. So as he was heading back to the airport and I was planning on staying on the shuttle to return to the hotel, we had a few minutes to ride that circular route together while discussing his presentation, laugh over the idea that we didn’t have to send follow-up tweets (at least for the moment) to continue our conversation, and that his part of the circle that was taking him to the airport so wonderfully overlapped with part of my own circle back to the onsite conference conversation.

It may be months before we see each other face-to-face again. But already, as I capture this set of reflections late at night, I see the conversation extending further—along with the reach of the “conference site” via a follow-up email message he sent. And if he and I (and others here at the NMC 2015 Summer Conference) carry these extended-learning lessons back to our own learners, who can say when the conference will really end?


Conferences, Twitter, and Staying Connected: No Longer Left Behind

October 28, 2013

An oft-repeated and rather poignant joke among some of my colleagues is becoming a thing of the past: those who wish they could but are unable to attend conferences—specifically those sponsored by the American Library Association—have long tried to keep up with onsite participants’ reports via Twitter, using the conference hashtag as well as #ALALeftBehind as points of connect. But more than a few of us are realizing that we can do more than sit by the virtual sidelines and watch everyone else have fun onsite, as I confirmed through a spur-of-the-moment experiment people attending the annual ASTD (American Society for Training & Development) Chapter Leaders Conference in Crystal City, Virginia a few days ago while I stayed home.

ASTD_ALC_2013--Logo

I’ve been on the other side of this left-behind fence many times, as I’ve noted through articles about participating onsite in backchannel conversations; ASTD colleague David Kelly has also written eloquently about Twitter, backchannels, and conferences. Several of us attending the annual ASTD International Conference & Exposition over the past couple of years have, as part of our Chapter Leader Day activities, reached out from the conference via short, live sessions to connect onsite colleagues with left-behind colleagues; we were attempting not only to reach out to and connect with those who stayed home, but to demonstrate how easy it could be for ASTD chapter leaders (or anyone else) to bring their local meetings to a larger audience through active Twitter feeds as well as via free tools including Google Hangouts and Skype. But I hadn’t been part of the #leftbehind gang until changing circumstances this year unexpectedly caused me, for the first time since 2008, to miss a couple of those onsite annual events that mean so much to me in terms of keeping up with my communities of learning and the ASTD colleagues who make up one very important part of my personal learning network (PLN).

The idea of trying to actively participate in the 2013 ASTD Chapter Leaders Conference via Twitter began taking shape when I saw a tweet from an onsite colleague expressing regret that I couldn’t be there for our annual joint presentation on nonprofit basics for chapter leaders. I jokingly responded, via Twitter, that I actually was there and that he had probably simply missed me up to that moment.

xplrpln_logoTransforming an offhand joke into the experiment quickly took shape as I thought about how I’ve been inspired to find new ways to reach out to members of my communities of learning and personal learning networks through the Exploring Personal Learning Networks (#xplrpln) course that Jeff Merrell and Kimberly Scott are currently facilitating under the auspices of the Northwestern University Master’s in Learning & Organizational Change Program. Less than 48 hours earlier, in fact, another ASTD colleague who is not in that massive open online course (MOOC) had stumbled into an #xplrpln session via Twitter, so it wasn’t much of a stretch for me to toy with the idea of doing the same thing via Twitter, but with a bit more planning and more deliberate actions designed to foster two-way participation.

It didn’t take long for the experiment to produce wonderful—although somewhat limited—results. Using a Twitter management tool (I defaulted to HootSuite.com, but Twubs.com and Tweetchat.com are among the tools that could have worked just as easily) at the end of the first day of the conference, I skimmed the feed late that evening, retweeted a few of the more interesting items just as I would have done if I had actually been onsite, and added comments, knowing that this had the potential not only to inspire interactions with onsite attendees but also draw in a few of my own followers on Twitter if they either retweeted or responded to those late-night posts.

Connected_Educator_Month_LogoBy the next morning, a couple of onsite colleagues had responded. And a little later, during the second day of that two-day conference, a couple of onsite conference attendees actually retweeted the notes I had retweeted. I continued to participate throughout the day as time allowed. The real pay-off for the experiment came when the exchanges put me in touch with one of the presenters who had seen the retweets and comments. The result, in many ways, was exactly what it would have been if I had been onsite and meeting members of those expanding communities of learning and personal learning networks rather than feeling as if I were part of the left-behind gang. The positive aspects of this are obvious: with a bit more planning and organization, onsite and offsite participants could be interacting at far more significant levels than the limited amount of interaction this experiment nurtured. And the obvious weakness of this plan is that the small number of onsite participants tweeting summaries of sessions made it difficult to participate in more than a few of those sessions at this level. But it was an interesting start—one that offers a lot of promise for any of us who want to nurture our communities of learning and personal learning networks in every way possible. And I certainly felt far less left behind and far more connected as a trainer-teacher-learner than would otherwise have been the case.

N.B.: This is the seventh in a series of posts inspired by Connected Educator Month and participation in #xplrlrn (the Exploring Personal Learning Networks massive open online course).


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