What about the freaking book?

Some of you know that Etienne Wenger, John Smith and I have been working on a book about technology for communities of practice for what seems like an eternity. Well, there IS progress. We are working on the final round of writing and editing. We desperately need a graphic designer who can help us turn our images into something useful. The focus is information graphics.  (Yes, with a very small budget!) If you are interested, ping me. In the meantime, John posted a wee update on the book blog… Technology for Communities » Time marches on. One of the things he did was share a couple of graphics we are using. (These are examples of the work we need someone to improve upon!)

Learning Over Each Other’s Shoulders

(Note: this  blog post dates from September 13th 2007 on my old blog. It had  been in limbo since August 30th. There was so much more to add, but I decided it is time to put it in the wild and not lock the partial thinking in the “draft” queue! Now I am republishing it today as I have a coda to add and the older blog post is hard to find…)

The Original Post

I have been part of quite a few informal conversations recently about how to “learn how to do this web 2.0 stuff.” Not just learn it, but learn it in the context of it adding something useful to our work and lives. The volume, the subtleties of useful practice, can feel overwhelming. Our sense of inadequacy can paralyze.

In Cali, Colombia, I led a workshop about facilitating online interaction and we used the Social Media Game to add context to this flood of “cool new tools with weird names. ” I think the most engaged moment was when people were in small groups, explaining new tools to each other and thinking about what might be useful in their work. It was still pretty abstract. We did not get hands-on. But people noted that the tool stuff was of a great deal of interest.

I always try and promote the people and process stuff, but the reality is that tools are often the “door opener” to the process conversations because they are more tangible. So being able to “look over the shoulder” as someone uses the tools in a social context would be really useful.

In Bogota, Colombia at the very well attended “Quality in eElearning” conference I had a side conversation about ways to usefully use Twitter, Wikispaces and del.icio.us with a couple of my co-presenters, and a separate conversation with Jay Cross about doing an “Over the Shoulder” camp. Inthe instance with Ulf-Daniel Ehlers it didn’t start out as a conversation. I had mentioned and showed a Wikispaces page in my presentation the day before. During the third day where we were relaxed in the “participant” role, I was sitting next to Ulf and noticed he was messing with a wikispaces page he had set up. I showed him a couple of things. He shared a few links. Together, we figured out how to embed del.icio.us links into a Wikispaces page from a great blog post I had found a while back. In the mean time, Virginie Aimard was looking over from the other side, following silently along on our digital journey. Back and forth.

A few weeks later I was the guest for a “10 Minute Lecture” for Leigh Blackall’s Online Learning Communities course, centered in New Zealand. (You can see the slides, audio and Elluminate recording here.) The theme was peer learning – a communities of practice perspective. Leigh had initially asked me to talk specifically about Peer Assists, but I felt a larger issue tugging at me – this “over the shoulder” stuff.

We talked about this mode of learning from each other. I really enjoyed the conversation and poof, the hour was up. But then the blog posts from course members started showing up – those who were in the live session and those who viewed the recording. There the themes of inadequacy, of the pressure of time to do this learning, of possibility. I felt this little frisson of learning, that was a bit of learning over each others’ shoulders. For me, it was then important to comment on each of the blog posts that mentioned my name, thus showing up in my feed reader, because learning from each other has that back-and-forth quality. It is iterative. Conversational.

And so this thinking, doing, experiencing, advocating for over the shoulder learning comes back to a reflective blog post. Because reflection is the final piece that cements it together.

Comments from the original post on Blogger:


Anonymous Beth Kanter said…
Nancy: I love the idea of “over the shoulder” camps. At one point, durin my circuit riders – we used the term “shoulder-to-shoulder” to describe informal, small group computer instruction. So, what you are talking about is the network effect of this type of learning?

3:20 PM
Blogger annelizbeth said…
Fascinating…absolutely fascinating. I am currently engaging in an effort to provide a perspective on the state of “learning” for a npo client…will be sure to include your futuristic thoughts around where we are headed…!

7:43 PM

Today’s Update

I have been sick with the flu the last 10 days, eliminating any chance of finishing my year end work and having time for reflection. I have an RFP that I have to respond to this week so I was reviewing some of my pertinent materials – particularly those related to peer learning and online facilitation.

I realized I have never classified much of my work as “peer learning.” More often this has come under the rubric of learning from and with each other in networks and communities (i.e. communities of practice, etc.) I have had a bias for on-the-job, in-the-moment, just-in-time and informal learning, supported with appropriate formal and structured learning. These peer based options give us the opportunity to learn both in context and with the give and take that reveals the texture and nuances of those contexts.

It is beyond obvious to state that digital technologies have expanded our possibilities for these peer learning forms. So the reflective question going back, and the learning agenda question going forward is what will advance and deepen our ability to learn with and from each other in the coming year?

What do you think?

Safety, Inclusion, Contribution, Play and the Culture of Love

Take a minute to read this great post from Bob Sprankle (who says he is an elementarytechnology integrator – wow, that’s a new one on me!) What We All Want. Bob shares the results of his deployment of the Pew internet student survey (the online NetDay Survey by “Speak Up,” a national research project conducted by “Project Tomorrow” ) in his classrooms, and with his family. What’s coming out of the survey? That kids care about safety, inclusion and contribution. Spot on!

For me, this is the same thing I hear people wanting from their work groups and their communities of practice. What the words mean in context varies, but the pattern is consistent. Well, the adults also want some relief of the giant to-do lists and endless expectations their work puts up on them. They want safety in that they want to be able to be heard, to have time for reflection and quality in their work and learning, despite high output expectations. (This is not to be confused with the culture of fear that has taken hold of my country. The word ‘safety” has been pretty warped lately!) They want to be part of something and to be a contributor to that “something.” They want their work to matter.

Bob then goes on to talk about the importance of play in learning. Again, this shows up in the adult world, but we still seem resistant to talking about it using that old “P” word. As if it were wasting time and keeping us from the giant to-do-lists that are eating us alive.

As we roll towards the end of the year, it is useful to remember that learning, knowledge creation and sharing, innovation, yes, even productivity, relate back to these four things: safety, inclusion, contribution and play. Together, these make great descriptors of a culture of love.

I’m not sure I’ll be blogging much over the holidays. I have one post that I’m working on, but just in case, Happy Holidays – may they be filled with safety, inclusion, contribution, play and a whole lot of love.

Hat tip to Stephen Downes for spotting Bob’s post.

Repost: Blogs and Community, Launching a New Paradigm

One of the hassles of moving between blog software is the difficulty of finding old stuff in the archives. Today someone was looking for this article, Blogs and Community – launching a new paradigm for online community? and it was really hard to find. So I’m “reprinting” it here on the WP part of my blog for easier future finding!

Blogs and Community – launching a new paradigm for online community?

First published 2006 in the Knowledge Tree
Edublog award winner, best paper, 2006

In September, the following article of mine was published on the The Knowledge Tree. I decided I’d like to have a copy on my website, so I’m reproducing it here. I’ve added a little postcript to the end. Plus I learned yesterday that the paper was nominated for an Edublog award. More on that in a separate post.

Just a note to those seeing it as I first put it up, I have some work to do to put the graphics on my site, so it may be funky till I work out the tweaks. The tables about 3/4 of the way down are easier to read in the word/PDF versions. I’ll also get a PDF up here as well, but in the short term I’ll link to the copies on the Knowledge Tree site!

For downloads of hard copies (word and pdf, go to the Knowledge Tree site. Click to access the recording of the live gathering and conversation in which we furthered this exploration.

Continue reading Repost: Blogs and Community, Launching a New Paradigm

Petronas Towers, Mist and KM

Petronas Towers at Night in the Rain

Originally uploaded by Choconancy

I can’t resist sharing this one shot. This mist is lovely.

I am back in my room, preparing for my participation on a panel about the “Future of KM” here at GK3. I have been thinking things like “the culture of love,” Juanita Brown’s “conversation as a radical act,” communities, connection and the challenges of multimembership and simple overwork. In other words, not focusing on the technical. I was revisiting the advice Dave Pollard (via email) and Jack Vinson offered me, and Jack reminded me to visit Dave Snowden’s blog. Lo and behold, I found this….



[we must] rethink the relation between knowledge and emotion and construct conceptual models that demonstrate the mutually constitutive rather than oppositional relation between reason and emotion. Far from precluding the possibility of reliable knowledge, emotion as well as value must be shown as necessary ….

Jaggar 1989:157 “Love and Knowledge in Feminist Epistemology” in Jagger & Bordo Gender/Body/Knowledge quoted in Smith & Jenks Qualitative Complexity


Whoa, there’s that love again. Dave Pollard, in email was right in the same flow:

“My strong recommendation to you is to shake ’em all up by doing what I did in San Jose this month – focus on the holy trinity (which you helped me discover) of love, conversation and community.”

The mist is lifting!