#etmooc: A Midterm Review of Connectivity, Collaboration, and Learning

February 20, 2013

With massive open online courses (MOOCs) at the center of hype, overhype, and plenty of justifiable criticism, a midterm review of one—the highly interactive Educational Technology and Media MOOC (#etmooc, organized by University of Regina professor of educational technology and media Alec Couros and others)—shows what a well-designed and well-facilitated MOOC can offer to learners with the digital literacy skills required to benefit from them.

etmoocDiving into #etmooc to gain my first hands-on experience in the burgeoning world of MOOCs—one of two technologies cited in the 2013 New Media Consortium (NMC) Horizon Report (Higher Education edition) as likely to “see widespread adoption in higher education over the next 12 months”—has far exceeded anything I expected. In less than three weeks, I have gained a rudimentary understanding of and appreciation for the differences between two types of MOOCs (the xMOOCs that many mainstream journalists seem to be addressing, and the much more interactive cMOOCsconnectivist MOOCs)—and much more. I have become an active part of a newly formed, dynamic, worldwide community of learners; continue to have direct contact with some of the prime movers in the development of MOOCs; had several transformative learning experiences that will serve me well as a trainer-teacher-learner involved in onsite and online learning; and have learned, experientially, how to use several online tools I hadn’t explored four weeks ago. My MOOCmates and I have already explored connected learning and digital storytelling; are currently engaged in efforts to better understand—and contribute to an understanding of—digital literacy; and will also have explored the open movement and digital citizenship by the time the course ends on March 30, 2013.

#etmooc shows more than 1,600 people registered. Of that group, at least 850 are part of the #etmooc Google+  community; more than 500 have already contributed to the course blog hob—an example of how digital literacy involves acts of creation as much as the acquisition of a pre-determined set of skills; and many have engaged in acts of learning and creation through the more than 150 #etmooc videos that have been posted on YouTube. Live sessions on Blackboard Collaborate generally attract at least 75 participants, with many more viewing the programs via the course archives—which suggests that the course is providing content that will be useful to far more people than are currently participating in the live version of #etmooc. And there is an official course Twitter feed that reflects only a small number of the 12,000 tweets collected and archived as of this evening via the #etmooc hashtag—many of them containing links to valuable resources.

etmooc_graphic[2]What it really comes down to is contacts, connectivity, collaboration, and learning. It’s about individually and collaboratively producing significant learning objects including, but far from limited to, Alec Couros’ course introduction; Dave Cormier’s session on rhizomatic learning; and the digital literacy sessions led by Doug Belshaw and Howard Rheingold. Any of the ever-growing list of sessions within the course archive provides stand-alone engaging examples of what online learning at its best provides. Each also inspires connections between the course designers/facilitators, other presenters, and learners; where I had initially expected very little direct contact with those delivering the course, given the large number of participants, I’ve been absolutely floored by the personal responses delivered in the form of tweets, responses to blog postings, and other interactions.

Outside of the course, on the other hand, I continue to see snarky comments from those who either haven’t had or aren’t willing to seek out these opportunities and the benefits they offer.  I also see that New York Times editorial writers have just published an editorial on why MOOCs and other online learning opportunities may not be appropriate for all learners—a valid point of view, but one that only in the most cursory fashion acknowledges the idea that MOOCs are a perfectly fine addition to the learning landscape for those of us who develop the digital literacy and learning skills to take advantage of what they offer—those who develop, in a sense, the very thing we’re studying at this point in the #etmooc curriculum (digital literacy and the skills that support a form of literacy that is increasingly becoming essential to 21st-century learning).

The point here is not what is wrong with MOOCs or how they might pose a threat to our current learning landscape. The point is what can be right about them and how the best of them are already becoming essential elements of training-teaching-learning. It makes no more sense to ignore the important, positive roles MOOCs can play than it would make to propose the abandonment of any other element of our learning landscape—from classroom-based academic offerings to the workplace learning and performance (staff training) efforts that are essential to lifelong learning. And participation in high-quality offerings like #etmooc are the best response of all to those curious about how MOOCs might fit into that landscape.

N.B.: This is the eleventh in a series of posts responding to the assignments and explorations fostered through #etmooc.

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Synthesis, Shifting Perspectives, and Storytelling: Hidden Garden Steps and #etmooc

February 12, 2013

Sometimes the slightest shift in perspective reveals the presence of stunningly beautiful interweavings that moments earlier hadn’t been obvious between various elements of our lives. That moment came for me this morning while viewing a colleague’s newly-posted video on YouTube.

etmoocCommunity, collaboration, and creativity in a variety of venues seemed to be coalescing into an incredibly beautiful tapestry as I watched  the video prepared by Hidden Garden Steps organizing committee co-chair Liz McLoughlin. I was initially captivated simply by what Liz had produced: a chronicle of the community collaborations between Steps volunteers, elected officials and civil servants here in San Francisco, and partners including the San Francisco Parks Alliance and the San Francisco Department of Public Works Street Parks Program; cash and in-kind donation successes; and community workshops designed to allow hands-on involvement in the actual construction of the mosaic that is at the heart of the project.

I became even more enchanted and emotionally moved when I shifted my perspective slightly so that the connections between Liz’s work and other elements of my own current explorations in online  and blended learning as well as with building abundant communities became obvious. What made me see that video in the larger context of creative interactions, collaborations, and community-building was the fact that that Liz, as one of many who are pushing this volunteer-driven community based effort to create a second set of ceramic-tiled steps along with gardens and murals  in San Francisco’s Inner Sunset District, had perfectly captured the playful spirit and energy of the Hidden Garden Steps effort. There was also the simultaneous realization that Liz, in the context of documenting successes for the Hidden Garden Steps project, had produced a wonderful example of digital storytelling. By combining enticing music, wonderful images, a set of PowerPoint slides, and an engaging story into a video, Liz had, all at once, produced an attractively positive story of how members of communities work together to bring dreams to fruition; an update to current and prospective project supporters; and a great example of what thousands of us are currently studying in #etmooc, the Education Technology and Media MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) organized by University of Regina professor of educational technology and media Alec Couros and several co-conspirators.”

As I’ve documented in two interrelated posts here on Building Creative Bridges, digital storytelling draws upon archetypal elements at the heart of vibrant, creative communities by enticingly documenting what is most important to us. And the experience of exploring digital storytelling within such a dynamically stimulating community as the one developed by those who have organized and are facilitating #etmooc has certainly been inspiring me to look more deeply about how the stories we tell are at the heart of nearly every successful effort that attracts my attention. I see this in my various roles as a volunteer, in the work I do as a trainer-teacher-learner, and in the writing that puts me in touch with creative colleagues worldwide through our promotion and use of social media tools—including those we routinely use to complete assignments within #etmooc and the Social Media Basics course I just finished facilitating again.

The more I think about the interwoven threads of these various stories that are unfolding in my life (the Hidden Garden Steps project, #etmooc and digital storytelling, the Social Media Basics course, my face-to-face and online interactions with colleagues at conferences and in social media platforms, and my ongoing efforts as a trainer-teacher-learner), the more fascinated I become at how the smallest part of any of them sends out tendrils along the lines of the rhizomatic learning concepts we’ve also been studying in #etmooc.

But then I also realize that I’m falling into the trap of making all of this too complex. What it really comes down to is that we’re incredibly social and interconnected people living in an incredibly interconnected onsite-online world. We live socially, we learn socially, we dine socially, we thrive socially, and we build socially. And, at least for me, one of the key pleasures comes from the leaning that occurs in each of these personal and shared short stories that become the extended stories—the novels—that we are creating by living them.

With that act of circling back to learning as a key element of our individual stories, we find one more thread that ties this all together. Given that learning is a process of responding to an immediate need by engaging in positive transformation, we can all continue learning—and creating the stories that give meaning to our lives—through our involvement with challenges along the lines of nurturing the Hidden Garden Steps project, finding community in #etmooc, and becoming active participants in a variety of other collaborative and community-based efforts. The more we look for and document interweavings between these seemingly disparate endeavors, the better learners—and storytellers—we become.

N.B.: This is the fifteenth in a series of posts responding to the assignments and explorations fostered through #etmooc and the fifteenth in an ongoing series of articles to document the Hidden Garden Steps project in San Francisco.


Coming Full Circle with Digital Storytelling in #etmooc

February 11, 2013

After dabbling with digital storytelling last week as part of the work I’m doing as a learner in #etmooc, the Education Technology and Media MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) organized by University of Regina professor of educational and media Alec Couros and several “co-conspirators,” I circled back on the theme in a more focused and serious way. And found myself in far deeper emotional waters than expected—as is often the case with any completely engaging learning experience.

etmoocCouros and his colleagues have offered us choices among eight different digital storytelling challenges ranging from simple acts (writing a six-word story and combining it with an emotionally engaging image) to an “ultimate challenge”: “Write a story, and then tell that same story digitally using any number of digital tools and freely available media! For inspiration and story creation guidance, see Alan Levine’s 50+ Web 2.0 Ways to Tell a Story.”

Starting simply, I tackled the six-word stories; saw the emotional depth others were achieving; and went back to the drawing board until I found one that promised to carry me into the level of exploration others had achieved: “Through stories, our departed remain alive.”

One of the departed who remain alive for me is David Moebs, who died from AIDS-related complications in June 1998, yet remains amazingly present. He was a person whose understated generosity made a substantial difference to his friends during his lifetime: at least three different times, he gave substantial amounts of money to friends in need, knowing that the money, if used wisely, would make life-changing differences for them. He had no expectation of receiving anything in return; he simply wanted to take action at the right moment, with people he perceived to be the right people.

It was not a complete surprise to me, therefore, that when I wrote about his spirit of volunteerism and generosity and posted the article online (more than a decade after he left us, in a rudimentary form of digital storytelling long before I ever heard the term), it touched a few people who still carried strong, positive memories that were rooted in his actions.

David_Moebs

David Moebs

I was, in preparation for the #etmooc digital storytelling assignment, already going back to unpublished writing I had completed about David. I was also trying to find the appropriate way and tools to give new life to an old story. Video still felt a little beyond me; blogging felt as if it wouldn’t force me to stretch in ways the assignment was designed to make all of us as learners stretch. So I started looking for tools I hadn’t yet explored—Prezi and Vuvox among them—to see if I could revisit David’s story in my ongoing role as a learner. My starting point was to storyboard the effort using PowerPoint: I actually completed a draft that placed the script into the notes field of each slide; incorporated images licensed through Creative Commons and posted on flickr; began moving the images into Prezi and Vuvox; and recorded the script using Audacity.

That’s when I hit the sort of glitch we expect to find while learning: Vuvox wasn’t cooperating, and Prezi didn’t want to take the audio files in the format that Audacity produced and stored them. I did find an online service that would, for a fee, have transformed the recordings into a format compatible with what I had developed visually in Prezi, but I held myself back with a challenge to either locate a free online tool or find a new way to use existing tools that I already had acquired.

The solution proved simple once I returned to PowerPoint. Using the “sound” function that is under the “insert” tab within the program, I was able to easily re-record the individual elements of the script and insert them into each slide—and even pull in an audio clip from YouTube to pull the story together at a multi-media level.

And while I don’t expect to win any awards for innovations in digital storytelling, the entire exercise not only offered a wonderful opportunity to revisit an old friend, but to benefit further from the learning opportunities that #etmooc is producing at a time when so many of us are exploring what MOOCs are and will continue to offer as part of our overall learning environment. 

N.B.: This is the sixth in a series of posts responding to the assignments and explorations fostered through #etmooc. The digital story described in this posting can be viewed online in “Slide Show” mode; to produce the audio, please click on the audio icons on each slide.


#etmooc Tweet Chat: Navigating Streams and Rivers

February 7, 2013

Fascinated by and immersed in Twitter backchannels and tweet chats, I’ve recently been assisting learners in the latest offering of our ALA Editions Social Media Basics course as they explore live chat sessions in a variety of social media platforms. Guiding them through chats in Twitter via TweetDeck, HootSuite, and TweetChat as well as through a private discussion group in Facebook has given me a greater appreciation for how much we all struggle to cope with the information deluge that we face every day—a situation that for me has increased exponentially over the past week as a result of my decision to dive into #etmooc, the Education Technology and Media MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) organized by University of Regina professor of educational technology and media Alec Couros and several “co-conspirators.”

etmooc#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.


#etmooc as an Example of Connected—Rhizomatic—Learning

February 4, 2013

If you’re discovering that your personal learning network is expanding wonderfully and unpredictably in an almost viny, plant-like manner, you’re already engaged in what Dave Cormier calls rhizomatic learning—a process of learning that mirrors the spreading of rhizomes so there is no center, just a wonderfully ever-expanding network of learning connections rooted in creation, collaboration, and the building of communities of learning.

etmoocCormier has done plenty to help trainer-teacher-learners understand and apply the rhizomatic learning model to our work through his 300-word introduction to the topic, a longer blog posting, a scholarly examination of the subject, and the presentation he recently facilitated as part of #etmooc—the Education Technology and Media MOOC (massive open online course)organized by University of Regina professor of educational technology and media Alec Couros and several “co-conspirators.” And his work served as a wonderful conclusion to an exploration of connected learning, the first of the five #etmooc topics to be explored in the course.

Highlighting a variety of large themes—including our perceptions regarding the purpose of learning—Cormier leads us to an idea of learning as “preparing for uncertainty.” He suggests that learning, at its broadest level, can be seen as an attempt to prepare learners for a world that doesn’t yet exist, as Michael Wesch and his students documented in their “A Vision of Students Today” video (2007). And we’re not just talking about learners in formal academic settings, either; those of us involved in workplace learning and performance (staff training) efforts face learners who are worried about their inability to keep up with the rate of change in their workplaces, the need to continually learn new technologies and software, and struggle with the evolving role of social media tools in their workplaces.

His #etmooc rhizomatic learning presentation provides a foundation through his “Five Things I Think I Think”:

  • The best learning prepares people for dealing with uncertainty.
  • The rhizome is a model for learning for uncertainty.
  • Rhizomatic learning works in complex learning situations.
  • We need to make students responsible for their own learning.

Cormier, seeing MOOCs as a great medium for rhizomatic learning, offers five steps to succeeding in MOOCs (and, by extension, in rhizomatic learning): orienting yourself to the setting; clearing yourself so others can interact with you; networking; forming clusters with other learners, and focusing on the learning outcomes that are driving you to learn.

“Think,” he suggests, “of the MOOC as a gathering place”—a concept much different than what comes to mind for the average person who has heard about MOOCs and other forms of online learning but has not yet had the experience of seeing how engaging, inspiring, and effective they can be.

Couros himself, noting how much engagement there was in the live chat during Cormier’s presentation, suggested that participation in the rhizomatic learning session reflected our decision to “walk through the same door on the Internet so we could think together,” and Cormier responded by observing that what is created through this sort of interactive MOOC produces the equivalent of a networked textbook in that the content learners create together and share online becomes part of the learning community’s learning resources.

Finishing the module and all that it inspired me to do makes me realize that the learning experience is not complete without a summary of my own rhizomatic connected-learning efforts. My own learning rhizomes spread through the acts of:

  • Realizing, after reading Sasser’s article, that her experiences with that composition class mirrored my own recently with Social Media Basics learners in an online course I wrote and facilitated
  • Exploring the Cynefin framework—with its simple, complicated, complex, and chaotic domains—to see how rhizomatic learning helps us deal with complex learning situations
  • Writing this piece and others to make more colleagues aware of rhizomatic learning and the value of a well-organized and innovatively-delivered MOOC

“The most interesting stuff is what happens in the complex domain,” Cormier observed, and I’m looking forward to exploring more of that “interesting stuff” as our course moves into digital storytelling for the next two weeks.

N.B.: This is the third in a series of posts responding to the assignments and explorations fostered through #etmooc.


Texas Library Association Conference 2012: Creating an Onsite-Online Presence for Your Organization

April 20, 2012

Organizations looking to create a seamless and successful onsite-online presence need to remain true to their vision and values, play to their customers’ needs and desires, and foster a spirit of collaboration, attendees at the 2012 Texas Library Association conference were reminded during a session here in Houston yesterday.

Offering guidance that could easily be applied far beyond their library audience, Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library Chief Executive Officer Gina Millsap and Digital Branch & Services Manager David Lee King talked about how designing a digital branch library is “everyone’s job”—an assertion that makes sense in any endeavor involving the creation of an online service that is consistent with an existing physical presence.

Using their own library as a case study, Millsap and King noted that their efforts began with an obvious community need: they have a service area with a population of 177,000 and, by design, a single library building, so creating something that could more effectively reach larger numbers of people within that service area was an enticing challenge. Meeting that challenge in a way that remained true to the library’s mission and to the values of the community being served provided an additional foundation: “Ultimately, it’s about building relationships with people,” Millsap observed, so the digital library is designed to foster those relationships.

Before hiring King to help with development of the digital library—which, among its offerings, includes access to ebooks, downloadable music, original content including blog postings created by staff, and integration of social media tools to engage key members of the community—the library established clear and measurable goals, including a commitment to offering services onsite and online, creating unique content on the web, and acknowledging that the digital library would, for some users, be their only branch library. That virtual organization, furthermore, was designed to provide exceptional customer service, be consistent with the library’s strategic plan, and deliver a key element of what the library offers by promoting librarians as information consultants.

It also remains highly personal and engaging by avoiding library jargon and acknowledging that “customers and patrons” think of themselves as “library members” rather than “patrons.”

What those members find when they use the digital library is a focus on staff and important services; a strong commitment to reaching members where they are, i.e., on Facebook and on Twitter as well as on YouTube; and a team-based approach that makes the digital library with its social media sites work in engaging and interactive ways, King said.

And they arrived at that success through “lots of talking with my peers, with administration” as well as plenty of brainstorming, followed by planning, King noted.

Commitment by all staff members remains critically important, Millsap and King said. No one can opt out of involvement in the digital branch; the approach remains heavily team-based; participation is part of staff members’ formal job descriptions; and the organization deliberately hires people with a commitment to supporting the digital library.

The result has been that the library wants and continues to build trust with its community partners: “We’re sharing good stuff, making friends, interacting daily,” King explained. “We’re turning strangers into friends; that’s a goal for us.”

And if all of that sounds like a perfectly good roadmap for any organization wishing to better serve its constituents through a consistent blending of onsite and online operations, so much the better.


Libraries, Training, and Continuing Education

March 19, 2012

Those who still equate libraries with nothing more than printed books—and experience tells me there are plenty of training-teaching-learning colleagues who fall into that category—need to step outside their caves and see what is happening within their onsite-online libraries.

Laura Townsend Kane’s Working in the Virtual Stacks: The New Library & Information Science is just the place to start. Written primarily for those considering a career in libraries and those considering a mid-career change, this book by the assistant director for information services at the University of South Carolina’s School of Medicine Library in Columbia, South Carolina features interviews with more than 30 library insiders’ views of where their industry is going, and it should be of interest to a much wider audience. Whether you are among those who are increasingly using library services and are curious how they work, are already a library insider, or are considering a career in libraries, Kane has something for you.

Working in the Virtual Stacks introduces us to librarians as subject specialists; technology gurus and social networkers; teachers and community liaisons; entrepreneurs; and administrators in the five sections of her book. Even better for those of us involved with libraries as well as with training-teaching-learning within and outside of library land, we find numerous examples of library staff members as lifelong learners and facilitators of learning within the communities they serve—a confirmation of the key teaching-training role Lori Reed and I documented for members of library staff in our own book, Library Learning & Leadership.

We can’t go more than a few pages in this insiders’ view without coming across references to library staff members’ dedication to learning —their own as well as that of the library users they serve onsite and online. There are also numerous examples of library staff members promoting the use of online social media tools not only to complete the work they do but also to reach those in need of their services—just as many of us do in workplace learning and performance (staff training) endeavors outside of libraries. We’ll find library staff members using Facebook, LinkedIn, Skype, Twitter, YouTube, and a variety of other tools that have become every bit as important to library services as the books we’ve come to expect from our libraries in the various formats we seek—including eBooks.

There are library colleagues telling us that we “must also keep up with the field of futurism and trend watching,” as Steven J. Bell, associate university librarian for research and instructional services at Temple University does in the final interview in the book. Or reminding us that blogs, wikis, and instant message services all have roles to play in our training-teaching-learning endeavors, as Meredith Farkas, head of instructional services at the Portland State University Library in Oregon, does. Or how important it is to take every tech-based class available and stay active in social networking, as San Rafael Public Library Acting Director Sarah Houghton says. And how “if we become trend-spotters, we have a good chance of creating the ‘next big thing’” (p. 95), as San Jose State University assistant professor Michael Stephens maintains.

Most importantly of all, there is Kane herself confirming that “the days of sitting for hours at the reference desk, waiting for patrons to approach with questions, are long gone….librarians are expected to keep up with changing technologies” (p. 3)—just like the rest of us. And the best of them are there to help us through the transition in which we are still so deeply immersed in our careers as trainer-teacher-learners.


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