Preparing for my MOOC Contribution

This September, George Siemens, Stephen Downes and Dave Cormier are hosting another Massively Open Online Course, Change: Education, Learning and Technology. This time it is massive in soooo many ways. In length (September – May), in number of participants, in number of guest facilitators – of which I’m one. So it is time to prepare. And I have NO idea what I’m doing!

Here are the three things they are asking for and here is my draft. Your feedback is NEEDED!

1. A 500-1000 word overview of your work, why it’s important, and what you see happening next in that field. (We will compile these in an ebook).

Hm, of my work? That means I’d have to DEFINE my work. Without blabbering for hours, I’d say a couple of things about my work and I’m not sure it is entirely relevant in this context. I help people connect, communicate and get things done. And no matter how you slice it, these always involve learning but we are rarely talking about learning. So I decided the theme for my week would be “Triangulating, weaving and connecting our learning.”  So I have to write 500 words on this. Hm. Let’s try this and get some feedback from you. It’s still 159 words over, but I trust you’ll help me.

While we most often pay attention to “learning” in the contexts of organizations and institutions devoted to learning, the work I do out in the world is all about learning. Interestingly, we rarely talk about learning. We are learning as we work, play, and fulfill the myriad of roles in our lives. What I learn as a grandparent impacts my conversations with clients on organizational development. What I learn playing with my new iPad informs my graphic facilitation practice. Who I learn with in one context informs the other contexts. It is a rich tapestry of connections.

What I’d like to explore during my week is how we become a little more conscious of these connections. What practices help us tap the richness of our multiple contexts and roles as learners in the world. From international agricultural research to the neighborhood garden patch, learning is everywhere.

As a little background to these wooly wonderings, let me share three stories. That’s the best way I can think of to share my “work” and why it might have relevance for our conversations.

1. Connecting people accelerates learning AND  turns traditional structures on their heads. In 2000 I got involved in a small grant project in the Southern Caucasus, run by a small Vermont based nonprofit seeking to connect small business owners in three post Soviet countries using the Internet. In three countries with less than 10% internet penetration at the time. Two of whom were (and are still) at war with each other.  As you might guess, few of the entrepreneurs benefited, but the three country managers connected with each other in new ways, giving sufficient support to learn new things quickly and more easily than before, support each other in taking risks and rapidly iterating towards some amazing innovations.  Being connected changed their leadership experiences and increased their learning more rapidly than a typical “country program manager” might. They all went all to lead amazing programs there and in other places. At the same time their home office got a little freaked out… and they actually suggested (with some humor) that I had provoked a cult. But what turned things around was that their funders were so impressed, the home office eventually came around. But it turned things upside down for  a while…

2. Small things matter. The practices of connecting for learning abound in the era of social media. We have more opportunity than time or attention. So it is interesting to observe that big changes often turn on little actions. Someone introducing two people who might share an interest. A small, sincere thank you for a contribution to a network. A shift in web meeting scheduling to better accommodate diverse time zones.  I was at a gathering of one of my core international networks some years back and we closed the meeting by “going round the circle” to briefly share what we were learning. A woman I had just met said something about appreciating learning from me. I looked across this circle and thought “who is this woman?”  Now that woman is one of my key learning and working partners, even though we are half a world apart. If she had not spoken up the connection would not have happened.

3. Jumping domain and practice boundaries shines new light on our learning. Years ago I used to doodle to endure long, bureaucratic meetings that were part of my job. People started asking to have those doodles, as they reflected something in those meetings that resonated for them. Years later I have begun to do graphic facilitation – the use of visuals in group process.  By stepping into a new practice – litterally and mentally, it has changed the way I connect with others and make sense of my interactions with them. Changing modes has changed my learning. This shows up again and again as I work in new domains and parts of the world. Diversity enriches our learning.

2. A list of readings that you feel are important for people to read in order to understand your work and the field in which you conduct your research. Try to keep this list to your (the field’s) “top 5”

I’m thinking here of drawing a picture and being totally disruptive. I think this week is more about looking inward than outward. What do you think?

3. Suggested activities for course participants – i.e. what do you want them to do after reading your intro and the articles that you reference. Do you want them to debate a particular topic? create a concept map? produce a video? If you’re inclined, connect the activity to what others have done in the course previously so we can start to integrate themes.

As I read number three, I realized I’m not so interested in focusing this week on reading, but on reflection and conversation about the everyday practices that support learning across boundaries. So now I have to think about what sorts of activities would support this. It also makes me wonder if this topic is either too thin, or too broad.

What do you think? Lend a hand, please!

  1. No1. Done and dusted I think. Like it.
    No2. Inward looking is fine. However, to what end, which seems to me to be something outside if I look at your work and how it enables sharing and thinking and codification. Looking at how you articulate things in a way that other can benefit perhaps? So the drawing is a good idea if you can convey those elements I mentioned
    No3. You have three main themes in what you explained your work is about. How about you design some facilitated sessions around each, where people learn to codify their similar experiences or where they may seem opportunity, their visions in ways that use the web for example, that uses the paradigms of drawings and canvasses that can be shared in cyber space, etc. Then bring it together by piecing together the different views of the participants on a specific topic on a single ‘electronic’ canvas so they can see the power of network thinking perhaps?
    Wild ideas, but I think you can pull it off.
    Let me know how it goes.
    Your friend in NZ

  2. I can’t wait for your ‘week’.
    Love the idea of drawing a picture and wondered if the pictures could be done collaboratively – was greatly taken with that I read about in David Gauntlett’s book, Making is Connecting Not sure how it would work but it could be great fun
    So often connecting seems to be about the individual linking – that’s why I loved the Example 2 small things matter – she connected to you but you returned by reflecting and paying attention. As well as reading and thinking, let’s have an emphasis on listening.

  3. For some reason (page already open?) I hadn’t seen Jan’s comment when I wrote mine so it’s amazing to me that we seem to have come up with very similar ideas 😉

  4. In the MSLOC program we’ve used Google Draw to create affinity diagrams virtually. Simple tool that might facilitate group drawing/creation.

    • Henk, Francis and Keeley – THANK YOU for your feedback. Fabulous and you are starting to help me breathe. I feel I have some “imposter sydrome” about facilitating this week! Keeley, I have been playing with a bunch of visualizing tools. I have petitioned George to let me swap weeks so I can do this during a week when Im’ home and “more online” … so stay tuned.

  5. Nancy,

    I support your focus on “looking out” and conversations. I recently completed an on-line knowledge management course that was a series of prompts (eg. comparing two videos with different “opinions” and evidence quality OR a reading followed by three questions that involved interpreting perspectives OR a challenge to generate ideas for a specific emergent situation…)

    The on-line interactions were terrific and the participants were well engaged int he activities. For me, the value lies in them interacting with each other with you as facilitator, so many to many rather than many to one (you). The richness of the interactions and the quality of the dialogue are much greater. You become the “outside view- by constructively disrupting the dialogue with a range of challenges rather than trying to answer each and every post – thereby achieving your desire to be the disruptive element that stimulates new thoughts and relationships/exchanges between the participants and drives the conversations deeper and through new paths.

    I hope this is helpful to you.
    Kind regards
    Arthur (@Metaphorage)

  6. The group drawing idea has some merit, although if it tends towards being a concept map, perhaps a mind mapping tool provides more structure than a collaborative drawing tool.

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  8. Hi Nancy,
    When reading the above and thinking about the Nancy I know I think about the different definitions of learning out there… a lot of people think learning is putting pre-defined blocks of knowledge in your head. Eating a knowledge meal prepared by a chef (teacher) who knows best. Your approach is more like helping people plant a knowledge garden from which they can cook fabulous (or terrible) meals. I guess that’s also why the “read three texts and make a video about them” approach in No# doesn’t really resonate with you. All the best for the preparations and course

  9. Arthur, Brett and Eva – first THANKS for your comments. Eva, I love the metaphor!

    Brett, I’m thinking about the drawing…IF we do a live session on Elluminate on Monday and Friday, I’m also wondering how our shared (or individual) representations evolve?

    Arthur, I’m thinking about what my “disruptor’s hat” looks like. A whole new take on DeBono!!!

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  11. Now that I check the dates I see that I’m a tad late with this response, Nancy. Ah, the story of my life 😉 Sorry about that but maybe there’s something that will still be of interest.

    Looking forward to talking with you tomorrow. Thanks for the change-up in presentation style.


    I made a connection in my tapestry when I read about how your doodling led to a new focus on the visual mode, Nancy. You will (or have 😉 enjoy Sunni Brown’s TED video —

    Two suggestions, one fairly conventional. The other, out there.

    I might suggest the use of a tool I just discovered call CoHere It’s a bit clunky but the beauty is that multiple people can suggest ideas and then create a mind map together. So there’s the Read/Write as in Sunni Brown’s model of four modes of thinking plus the visual and kinesthetic. Reminds me a great deal of Taba’s List-Group-Label plus mind-mapping.

    And for a simple mind-mapping tool made for sharing, I like

    Second, you may not realize this but Dave Cormier is famous for his open whiteboards during our webinar sessions. Wonder if you could ask us to doodle on the whiteboard as you talk and simply add more slides as we fill them up. Might be interesting.

    • Cris, you are NOT too late! I’ll check out the links. Last week I was at an academic open source software conference and to try and make meaning in a professional language not my own, I did sketchnotes! You can find most of them here:

      Sunni did a great service with her doodling talk… I have not only seen it, but it is linked and quoted often, suggesting she created a great deal of resonance. Hm, resonance. That might be another interesting thing to talk about eh?

      As for whiteboard and slides…. Dave and I have been playing with whiteboards for a long time. We have a little history there! 😉 So the chances are there may be VERY few slides at all and all drawing, all the time!!

      Thanks again

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