Technology Stewardship in Learning Contexts

Campus Focus had an interview with Stephen Downes a while back (yes, this post has been sitting in the half baked column for a while).  He offers some great technology stewardship advice when thinking about “traditional” learning tech such as learning management systems and collaborative tools. I could not resist sharing one and encouraging you to read the rest of the article which is TERRIFIC!

… Don’t put too many people in the same space. Say that we’re running a massive online course with 1,200 people [enrolled].  The only way to manage a course like this is to [divide up] the students so we don’t have 1,200 people trying to comment in the same space. Instead, we encourage them to use their own blogs for that. The tendency [with collaborative tools] is to try to bring everybody into a single environment in order to foster collaboration, but my preference is to foster the collaborative activity itself outside the environment, and to use the environment only for reporting and communication. There are some really superb collaborative tools out there – Google Docs for example.  If you’ve got 100 people in your class and you want them to collaborate – well, move them into groups of [perhaps] eight or so.  Have them collaborate and then come back to the main area….  You don’t need to do everything in the collaborative environment itself, and in fact, there are many reasons why you shouldn’t do everything [there]. People think of collaboration as lining everybody up under the same banner. But collaborations work not when there is unanimity but rather when there is diversity. Having people perform different roles that draw on their different strengths, and having each person bring what is unique to themselves to the table, then valuing that contribution and finding ways to synthesize those individual contributions – that produces a stronger, more rewarding collaboration.

What Suzie and I Learned (or what a puppet can teach you!)

You never know what life will bring you. The trick is to say “yes,” and then hold on tight for the ride.

This post started in October when I was at  the CommunityMatters conference. I was running a super short Twitter workshop when Vicki Eibner piped up with a challenge. She herself wasn’t so interested in using Twitter, but there was someone important in her life that might be a match. In fact, this person’s friends were pleading for updates. Suzie. Suzie is pink, with big beautiful eyes and a colorful, ever changing wardrobe. Yes, Suzie is a puppet. (She may disagree, though, so don’t be surprised.)

Suzie, it seems, has a global network that cares about what she’s up to. As a bright pink puppet, age 7 (which is, I learned, 29 in puppet years) people are drawn to her like the proverbial moths to a flame (or me to chocolate!). Suzie’s friends are online and want updates. But Vicki hadn’t crossed that threshold– not so sure she was ready to help. Her question was right in line with the close of the Twitter session – do a small, time delimited experiment with a new tool, debrief it half way and adjust, then at the end, decide what to keep doing and what to chuck out. And most important, have a purpose in mind. I offered to sit down with Vicki and Suzie and think through such an experiment and get Suzie’s account set up. All this was done in three voices, Vicki’s, mine and Suzie’s.I said, let’s do a little peer coaching session and get Suzie signed up. Vicki said, “I’ll go get her out of the car.” And so we began.

So what do you do when you offer to teach social media to a pink puppet named Suzie? I had no idea, but an hour later, Suzie on her lap, Vicki, Suzie and I began.Suzie and I hit it off right away. A spirit of playfulness, dropping of self consciousness and some balancing of laptops and puppets and away we went.Vicki and I did the initial set up – taking care of account validation, but then we got to the interesting stuff. What does one tweet to the world? What was useful to others, to weaving a network? What was of little value or even inappropriate in the wide open medium of unprotected text?

Suzie found and added some of the people she knew into her Twitter account. We had so much fun, we actually decided to do a second session and video tape it as a simple introduction to Twitter. I can’t wait until the Orton Foundation folks can get that video up. We watched it and even at a long 15 minutes, it felt pretty fun and flew by. Who’d have “thunkit?”

As always, I walked away with learning as well. When we work for clarity, simplicity and fun, even some of the twisted bits of social media become a little clearer. Ask Suzie, she’ll tell you! Give her a Tweet. She’s been quiet on Twitter, and I think the network can use her energy!

The Harvest: After Event Reflections

While it feels more like winter than Autumn here in Seattle (22 F and -8 C I think, 6-8 inches of snow on the ground) I watch the last of the leaves falling off the big horse chestnut at the end of our driveway. Harvest time. While I’ve put my garden to bed for the winter, the chickens are still giving us a few eggs and all the pickles and chutneys we cooked up earlier in the Fall are looking beautiful on the shelf. The harvest.

I posted a few days ago about reflective teacher practices. Reflection is a form of harvest. Debriefing an experience is another form that I am particularly appreciating these days. Each of these processes has a potential internal and external value. I wanted to point out some examples of how people have shared out their harvest on blogs, tweets, and other social media to create external value.

Via Nadia Manning-Thomas of the CGIAR ICT-KM program shared two after event reflections on their blog, one on a particular activity design and debrief of a social media workshop. Nadia’s posts were thoughtful and probably took a fair amount of time to weave together – full of links, photos and content.

Chris Corrigan has an amazing range of harvest approaches from the very deep to the light and poetic, haiku-like practices.

Harold Jarche who is great at sharing his reflections, captured a quick post workshop blog post.  Not everything needs to be polished and for busy people, sometimes the quick share is the quick win for the rest of us.

Immediately after the workshop, I wrote, So what did I learn or what was reinforced?

A loose-knit online learning community can scale to many participants and remain effective.

Only a small percentage ~10% of members will be active.

Wikis need to be extremely focused on real tasks/projects in order to be adopted.

If facilitators can seed good questions and provide feedback, then conversations can flourish.

Use a very gentle hand in controlling the learners and some will become highly participative.

Design for after the course, using tools like social bookmarks, so that artifacts can be used for reference or performance support.

Create the role of “synthesizer”. I found it quite helpful when Tony and Michele summarized the previous week’s activities.

Keep the structure loose enough so that it can grow or change according to the needs of the community.

Having worked with many other online communities in the past two years, I would say that the role of “synthesizer” remains important, and it is a critical part of being a good online community manager.

I’m currently coming to the final phase of a formal evaluation which has lots of reflection, tons of things we’ve harvested, and now we are trying to figure out how to make them valuable. How can this “harvest” feed, rather than rot in a pile? Any inspirations for me?

What I’m Up To – Being Thankful

With nearly two months between posts, one starts to wonder, “what is Nancy up to?” I tweet occasionally, I have been blogging a bit on the Network Weaving Community of Practice blog, but mostly I have been heads down, working. We had a rare early snow here in Seattle and my afternoon face to face appointment was rescheduled. So instead of diving back into the to the to do list, I thought a quick update on the blog was in order.

This fall I have been helping design and coach an internal online facilitation workshop, run some online peer learning events for a group here in my own Washington state, continue some low level consulting for 3 different UN agencies and two US funders, work with an agricultural sustainability group, a community building group, a running club, an online language learning group, an evaluation for a European NGO, a global evaluation project, a Washington state coalition for young children and at least 5 online presentations. As I look at my calendar I have been BUSY. In this economy, that means I have been blessed by work, income, but far more important, I have a lot to be thankful to for my learning partners and clients.

The US Thanksgiving holiday is this week. It is a lovely holiday for more than just over-eating. It is a holiday for reflection. So I wanted to take this opportunity to thank all the people who are my friends, colleagues and learners all around the world. You are clients. You are collaborators. You are friends. You are perhaps even distant network nodes who have touched me, but in a way that shapes who I am and the path I walk.

Thank you all!

Reflective Teachers

When I’m designing or coaching design of learning experiences, including “classes” or workshops – any form – I like to include a reflective activity for whomever is teaching, facilitating or leading. And I like it to be visible to all the participants. This role models reflective practice in learning and removes some of the distance (power and participation) between the teacher and the participants. I believe in some way we are all on the learning path, even though our roles may vary.

In that vein, I wanted to point out Howard Rheingold’s Teacher’s learning journal | Social Media CoLab.Howard starts his reflection with goals:

My teaching goals:

I want to create the conditions for the class as a whole to make something magical happen. I want students to take away from this course all the learning outcomes I explicitly describe, but I also want to achieve much more: I want to awaken those who have been lulled to semislumber by so many years of desks arrayed in rows and “will this be on the test?” — I want to awaken them to their own powers to use online tools and their thinking skills to not only cope, but to thrive in a world that requires continuous learning. I want to grow more aware along with my students. I want to model and facilitate exploration of and reflection about the impacts of our own media practices. I want to induce student teams to outdo each other in coming up with fun, thought-provoking, incisive, profound, ways to engage with the texts and ideas. I want to inspire so much interest in social media that students read all the required texts and even some of the recommended texts.

Why I teach this way:

The subject itself has compelled me to teach about it: I have personally explored, observed, exploited, and analyzed media since internet-based communication was in its infancy, but when social media grew from a playground and laboratory for a small group of enthusiasts into a worldwide platform for commerce, politics, sociality, I became convinced that knowing how to use and think about social media could influence the final shape of the emerging infosphere. What you know and do today matters because it will be part of setting the rules for who can use these media, how they can use them, who will profit, and who will control tomorrow’s media. When I started teaching, students were starting to use Facebook — and they were already accustomed to surfing the web during class. The same media I’ve been using and which I’m now teaching are also directly challenging traditional methods of teaching and learning. Believe it or not, the ability to find out in real time whether the professor knows what he is talking about — and to silently share what you’ve discovered with the other students in a class — is a relatively new thing. When I started asking around about how teachers and students were  using social media for learning, and started asking the students themselves about what was working and what wasn’t, I began to learn that students thrive and learn from conversation among peers as well as the traditional public performance of whole-class discussion, that students’ collaborative projects amazed me and the other students with their ingenuity, that some risk-taking was exhilarating. Much of the structure of this class comes from the explicit feedback, experiment, and risk-taking of previous classes.

Given all that I’ve said so far, this description of the ideal 21st century teacher makes sense to me. I believe I fulfill some of these requirements. I strive to fulfill others. I vow to adapt, communicate, learn, envision, lead, model, collaborate, and above all, take risks. I take risks because I’ve learned that if you try something larger than your capabilities, you’ve learned something about doing something big — even if you fail. If you succeed admirably at doing something that you know you can do, you’ve learned something about doing something small. There’s nothing wrong with doing small things well. But I’m here to help those who want to go for it. This century requires thinkers who know how to take on significant challenges.

What happens, what changes when we share our intents? Does this bias participation? Seed the idea that the intent behind our actions shapes those actions? How do you as a teacher or leader show your intent?