Writing-meeting up-collaborating

I’m conscious that I haven’t published on this blog for a while – and that’s partly because I have been writing elsewhere. I’ve also been to some new meetups and collaborating (co-writing, reviewing, commenting, conversing) in various communities and associated offshoots I’m involved with.

I have some half finished (or half-started?) posts in the making. But ahead of our upcoming #OzLearn chat on working out loud (inspired by Simon Terry), I thought I’d short circuit them all and do a little retrospective work out loud post on some of the things I’ve been doing. Kind of like my friend Helen Blunden’s “What have I been up to?” posts (which I always enjoy!).


Much of my writing recently has been associated with EdConteXts.org – a great project which I’m facilitating with a bunch of standout educators across the globe. It’s been enlightening – mostly because it’s led me to read widely, in areas I wouldn’t necessarily have otherwise, and to collaborate closely with educators who introduce me to new perspectives, ideas, contexts in learning and education, and connections in different domains. Plus opportunities to write in new contexts, including:


July ended up being packed with new meetup experiences – I attended 3 new ones (none of which I hosted!):

  1. ResponsiveOrg meet on co-working & new ways to work, organised by Mark Woodrow. It was my intention to attend one of these since I saw Simon Terry tweet that he was speaking at a responsivecoffee event in Sydney. Although I wasn’t able to make that one, it piqued my curiosity of the ‘responsivecoffee’ / ‘ResponsiveOrg’ concept. I signed up to notifications of their meetup events. The stars aligned: the July event was on coworking -something I’d been looking into for the Sydney Third Place group (e.g. similar to these coworking events Helen has been doing in Melbourne). It presented a great opportunity to check out a prominent coworking space in Sydney (The Hub), a responsivecoffee / org event – and to explore potential common interests between ResponsiveOrg and Third Place. So, the Sydney Third Place event for July became an invite to join me at the ResponsiveOrg event. It was a really good experience. I’ve started writing more about it (another post).
  2. Third Place all cities Google + Hangout – Helen had the genius idea of organising a G+ Hangout as an opportunity for Third Place people across cities to meet (virtually) –and also to experiment with Hangout features and functionality. I’d always wanted to do some sort of cross-city event, and hadn’t done a Hangout before so thought it was a great opportunity. Helen has written more about the event here. My impression? Whilst I can see Hangouts being an excellent tool to meet and collaborate virtually on specific projects, they (and any virtual meeting spaces) may still have some way to go to achieve the type of immediacy and intimacy (& serendipitous distraction) of an informal face to face meetup. I think part of the reason is because it’s difficult to hear more than one person talking, you invariably end up having one person speak at any one time. This gives it the ambience of a more formal meeting, particularly for 10 or close to 10 people. Whereas in an informal face to face meeting of this size, people would naturally fall into smaller side conversations – whilst still being in the same physical space as the rest of the group (and having access to surrounding conversations) – these natural divisions are impossible to achieve in a virtual meeting space (breakout areas=separate subgroups). Ryan and I are doing another in a few weeks, so it’ll be interesting to see if my impressions change after that. Maybe once you relax and get used to the medium, the (perhaps, mental?) divide between virtual and physical starts to close.
  3. eLearning collective meetup – I’d been meaning to check out this newish meetup group started by Kerrie Burow, especially since our conversation on video based learning via Ryan’s blog. It’s always nice to meet people you interact with online. As an organiser of Third Place meetup events in Sydney, I’m also interested in checking out alternative meetup groups – for inspiration and potentially collaboration. I finally had the chance to attend an eLearning collective meet a couple of weeks ago. It was a good event – more semi-formal (with organised speaker/s and ‘round table’ discussion) than the completely informal get-together-&- have-a-chat format of Third Place. Excellent turnout (possibly about 30-40) and a whole different set of learning people in the room – perhaps with a higher proportion of education/higher ed and vocational ed & training (VET) than corporate (as tends to be the case with our Sydney Third Place people). Having perused the topics and attendees of their previous meets this didn’t altogether surprise me. But it’s also something that intrigues and interests me: the formation of links and connections across these different contexts, which are often perceived as being distinct from each other – but at the core deal with many of the same issues: learner engagement, relevant & meaningful learning experiences, facilitating collaborative and student centred pedagogies (via technology). There is more that I can and will write of this meetup. But I’ll save that for a separate post.

Reflections on the value of MOOCs

A few weeks ago, Con Sotidis (@LearnKotch) asked me to contribute my perspective to a piece he was writing on MOOCs for a new L&D magazine (“LEO”). Aside from it being a fun thing to do – write a few words, record a short video intro – it prompted me to think a lot about my MOOC experiences, and how they’ve contributed to my professional practice.

I’ve since come across some more perspectives and online conversations on corporate MOOCs, which have further helped flesh out my initial reflections. Conversations on MOOCs definitely seem to be creeping from the domain of higher ed and into the corporate sphere. Some of the items on Corporate MOOCs that caught my interest lately were:

Whilst the IMC report includes some interesting ideas on using MOOCs as part of an organisation’s recruitment strategy, much of the current conversation on the use of MOOCs for learning and development within the corporate context centres on application of the (x)MOOC model for:

  • employee professional development
  • ‘off the shelf’ alternatives to complement existing training offerings and/or
  • incorporating as part of a broader formal learning program.

All of these are certainly promising, and potentially viable for immediate application within a corporate context. And where you have well defined learning objectives or aim to support the development of ‘foundational’ knowledge, highly structured, content driven (x)MOOCs may well be a good option. The (x)MOOC format is also very much aligned to the way formal learning / training is both used and designed in the corporate environment (i.e. specific, well defined learning objectives, structured, linear content-focused course with defined start & end points).

And if we’re talking about introducing MOOCs into (conventionally conservative) corporate environments, starting with MOOC models which don’t dramatically diverge from existing pedagogical frameworks is a sensible approach (or at least an easier pitch to the execs).

However: I am most excited about the possibility of what might happen if we took a (c)MOOC framework and adapted it for a corporate context – how & what it might look like, and what could be achieved. As Michelle mentioned in her post, the social and project aspect of the MOOC is usually the most engaging. But this is often peripheral (if present at all) in the xMOOC format. In contrast, cMOOCs have connection (with other participants, with ideas & concepts) at the core – pedagogy and structure is explicitly designed to support this: it’s primarily about connection rather than just content access and individual knowledge acquisition.

My MOOC experiences

I’ve actively participated in 3 MOOCs:

Whilst the Gamification MOOC via Coursera wasn’t bad – I found the content interesting, the assignments were designed to support real world application of concepts, I  completed all requirements as stated, and even applied some of the concepts in my work. But: I never felt deeply moved, challenged, or inspired. Nor did I connect with anyone in the course. Yes there were discussion forums, and I did visit them once or twice but found the sheer number of disparate conversations overwhelming and hard to follow.

cMOOCs as vehicle for inspiration, behaviour change & community building

In contrast, #xplrpln and #rhizo14 – both ‘c’ (‘Connectivist’) style MOOC experiences have primarily provided the opportunity to meet, engage with and be inspired by a bunch of unique individuals from a range of diverse contexts and backgrounds (higher ed, k-12 ed, academia, not for profit, corporate and more); people who are driven to continually question, challenge, disrupt, explore, change, and improve themselves, others and the status quo.

cMOOCs are usually smaller (not massive – 100s rather than 1000s) – so conversations tend to be more constructive, meaningful and stimulating rather than chaotic, disorganised and inaccessible as they are in the more massive xMOOCs. This combined with a generally low structure, connectivist approach, focused on exploring and reflecting on complex, ill structured problems, or issues with no single or clear answer (thus necessarily requiring collaboration and in depth discussion with others to make meaning of the ambiguity); and conducted out in the open web (rather than on closed, private platforms) – all helps to both attract people who thrive in these environments, and to support the rapport building that results in close PLN relationships which persist long after the ‘course’ ends (> since the MOOC is conducted on social platforms participants already use, conversations simply continue on those platforms after the course ‘ends’).

Although I’ve only participated in two cMOOCs, they may be two of the most impactful personal and professional development experiences I’ve had – not simply because they exposed me to a whole range of new perspectives – and changed my perspective, thinking & mindset on a whole load of things (which has had a flow-on effect on the way I approach what I do at work). But what has been absolutely critical has been the people I have met, conversations I’ve had, collaborations I have engaged in, and stuff I’ve made . Many of these connections have become close members of my PLN and led to number of ongoing collaborations after the event which have contributed far greater to personal and professional development than any conventional course. Many of these collaborations are focused on building networks and communities, bringing people and ideas together:


My cMOOC collaborations – click on the image for the interactive version via ThingLink with more info on connections and collaborations > http://www.thinglink.com/scene/536820231192969218

What I get out of the cMOOC experience is not necessarily practical strategies, ideas or actions that I can apply directly to my workplace (which I might get from say, an industry event, workshop, conference targeted to the field of corporate L&D that I work – or indeed, an xMOOC targeted to a domain of knowledge or skill I have a need to develop). Yet it’s something that actually has greater value than practical application: it’s the shift in mindset that results from engaging with people who are driven to continually question, experiment, explore and improve -> it’s that you start to adopt this mindset yourself too. Start to see challenges as opportunities to explore possibilities, become a little braver, make the leap from thinking about experimenting to actually doing it. No longer (as) afraid of being challenged, but open to it – inviting challenge rather than being defensive. It’s more than just being inspired. It’s inspiration + action to = change. Change in the way you think, learn and act – about life, work, learning, and yourself. It is the personal, human connections and inspiration that Clarissa speaks eloquently of in her posts on #CLMOOC and #Rhizo14.

It’s the type of engagement that most conventional courses and programs dream of achieving, and it’s the reason why I get so frustrated with the continual focus on ‘completion’ as a means to evaluate the effectiveness or value of MOOCs. It’s not about completion; it’s about engagement. And thought-provoking, behaviour-changing engagement can be triggered even through one conversation or experience – as long as it’s with the right people, at the right time, and at the right level.

cMOOCs as a framework to support workplace goals?

So: how might cMOOCs be adapted to add value in a corporate context?

I’m wondering if the MOOC framework could be set up such that it directly supports the workplace goals: by using a connectivist, problem based learning approach, where participants collectively work on a relevant, ill defined problem; where objectives aren’t always clear from the outset (or defined by participants rather than the instructor) – and where there certainly isn’t any single ‘correct’ answer to the problem >> much like in the real world. This was the approach used in the ‘Exploring PLNs’ cMooc and it was very effective. And if the experiences ARE actually open, there is the potential to support global, cross-organisational / cross-context, (as well as intra-organisational) collaboration and knowledge/experience sharing – which could be the most exciting of all > not just breaking silos within organisations but across organisations and contexts (e.g. institutional: where you might possibly have say ppl from higher ed, teachers etc collaborating with corporate). We know that innovation comes from taking ideas and applying them in novel ways or contexts – it commonly happens at the boundaries of CoPs or in open, diverse networks – thus this *could* be a way of pitching it to corporates who are generally pretty guarded about ‘sharing’ organisational knowledge. Sure we might be a little way from this and yes there may be barriers to getting there, but as Maha reminds us in her email signature:

“We must do and think the impossible. If only the possible happened, nothing more would happen. If I only did what I can do, I wouldn’t do anything.” –

Flipping the conversation at ElNet Workplace Learning Congress

On May 16 I presented at the ElNet Sydney Workplace Learning Congress. This is a post on the experience.

The pitch

Back in February, I received a message from Leo Gregorc asking if I’d like to present at the ElNet Sydney Congress. He described the theme of this year’s Sydney Congress as:

“Flipping Performance” – a mash up of flipping the classroom, Performance support for L&D professionals and the 70:20:10 model.

…and invited me to submit some initial suggestions on this topic. The audience would be: “workplace learning managers, instructional designers and private consultants who usually like to take away a strategy tool for implementation.”

My initial response was puzzlement. There were a lot of ideas in that theme, but it was a mashup of potential. How to turn it into a coherent topic? And one that I could plausibly add value to for this audience? I left my subconscious to ponder that as I turned my attention back to my work day….

Later that night,  I had some late night inspiration for an idea that might fit with the theme. I typed a response to Leo:


I distinctly remember this being a brainstorm of ideas with myself, free typing ideas as they came. And then, wondering if I should release what were clearly embryonic thoughts, or wait & polish. I can be wary about sharing half finished thoughts…but it was late, I was tired – and – (perhaps most significantly?), I was in the middle of #rhizo14. The mindset of exploring possibilities had infected me. I clicked ‘send’.

It was positively received.

Learning #1: sharing half baked ideas is good.

The inspiration

In the last 8-12 months, I’ve explicitly  been trying to take a more performance-focused approach to the way I handle learning requests, and the design of elearning experiences. The original inspiration for this came from Cathy Moore’s post “Is training the answer? Ask the flowchart”. This post really changed the way I viewed my role as a designer, by demonstrating how performance support could be pitched alongside a (smaller) training solution – and moreover – how these opportunities might be shaped through careful questioning in the initial client conversation.

I started trying to apply Cathy’s strategies in my own client conversations immediately after reading her post. 6 months later, and I’m reading Christy Tucker’s post “Selling storytelling in learning”. Although Christy’s post is nominally about ‘selling’ a narrative or scenario approach to clients, what intrigued me was the way she had woven business objectives and measures into the scripted conversation; it resonated because I was having some of the same conversations with clients too, and starting to consider ways to evaluate long term impact of learning solutions with the business.  I even ended up having an interesting and valuable conversation with Christy about in it the comments of her post.

It was the combination of Cathy’s initial post, which got me changing my approach to client kick off conversations; plus Christy’s scripted conversation with its cleverly organic interweaving of business objectives and measures, that inspired the idea for “what” I’d present at ElNet. And…it was Ryan Tracey’s blog post “An offer they can’t refuse”, on Do-It-Yourself (DIY) or ‘home made’ video shot on a smartphone (including the conversation we had in the comments) that inspired the “how”.

Learning #2: your PLN is an invaluable source of inspiration.

The idea

The idea was to script and (smartphone) video a (fictionalised) client conversation for a typical request for compliance training, showing 1) how the conversation typically proceeds (i.e. how I used to conduct these conversations) vs 2) how these conversations can be ‘flipped’ to focus on performance rather than compliance, by asking different questions (i.e. how I now conduct these conversations). I wanted to ‘dissect’ conversation #2 – identify the points at which the direction of the conversation can be changed; and ultimately, the outcome – from training only (’10’) to a combination of skills / practise focused training (’10’) + social support (’20’) + performance support (’70’).

The production


Conversation #1 was pretty easy to script – it was a familiar conversation I’d had many times, over many years – one which revolved around a structured set of questions to identify the client’s training requirements: target audience, learning objectives, scope of content, tracking etc.

Conversation #2 was a bit more work. Although I was able to draw heavily on a number of conversations I’d had over the last 6-8 months, identifying key moments or turning points in these conversations, and condensing what is typically an hour-long kick off conversation into 10 minutes of key moments – whilst still having it flow and make sense as a conversation required more thought. Fortuitously, as I started scripting this conversation, another of Cathy Moore’s posts “How to kick off a project and avoid an info dump” landed in my inbox. This was one of those weird moments of serendipity, as her post covered exactly the type of conversation I was trying to script. It helped me to get clarity on what I was trying to achieve, and in particular, her point about using questions rather than advice to get the stakeholders to see the solution for themselves is genuis, and something I tried to integrate into my conversation script too.


Next, because this was going to be video, I needed to cast someone to play the role of the ‘client’. I knew there were casting sites where you could source volunteer student actors and the like…I did a search and found StarNow, an excellent site where you can post (for free) listings to scout for acting talent, models, musicians, crew, photographers etc. They have an extensive directory of talent ranging from professional to student / amateur; it’s very user-friendly, and listings can be posted as paid or unpaid jobs. I posted my (unpaid) listing, and within a day had a response, from Michael O’Grady.


As I geared up to shoot the video, I did some research on smartphone video – and found the excellent “Pocket Filmmaker” series by Jason Van Genderen on CNet. The videos on tripods & stabilisers, and audio were really helpful. The two things I felt were necessary to ensure my video was watchable were 1) no hand-held shakiness 2) audible speech. On recommendations from the Pocket Filmmaker, I got a Joby GripTight GorillaPod and a Rode smartLav, a lavalier mic that plugs into the headphone jack of a smartphone. I was quite interested to experiment a bit with smartphone filming, as there are a couple of work projects that I’m considering doing similar DIY video for. So this presented a good opportunity to test out some equipment and setup.

smartphone video equipment


I’d intended to take a photo of the setup during filming so I could do this “behind the scenes” post, but in the midst of shooting, forgot. So, here is my dodgy sketch of the setup.

smartphone video setup sketch

Since I only had one lavalier mic (I would get 2 next time…), we clipped it to Michael, and sat fairly close, so that it was effectively pointed between us. His voice still picked up louder than mine, but some post-production audio editing corrected that sufficiently. We put the phone and tripod on top of a box, so that we could get a level framing of our heads in shot. I didn’t draw it in the dodgy sketch, but we also had our scripts on the table in front of us for reference. We framed the shot so these were out of view.


Although I researched a number of free video editors, I ended up just using Windows Movie Maker. Aside from it appearing in several ‘best free video editor’ lists on the internet (e.g.), it had a very low learning curve and I didn’t have to download anything new. Since my requirements were basic – just needed to be able to split video and add text captions – and I didn’t have a huge amount of time (I waas still editing up to the Night Before the congress!), this met the need perfectly well. I posted this on twitter during editing


Learning #3: be resourceful. Use new experiences as an opportunity to experiment.

Dissecting the conversation: strategies for a performance outcome

When I reviewed conversation #2 (the ‘performance focused’ conversation), I decided it would be helpful to consolidate/ categorise key moments into a number of high level strategies. This is what emerged based on the conversation I’d scripted (bullet points are effectively my speech notes):

1: Focus on objectives, not solution

  • Start with an open question (e.g. ask for project context / background) rather than scoping the specifics of the requested solution. This opens up opportunities to follow up with questions clarifying the business objectives.
  • In most kick off conversations, the client will want to talk solutions. Steer conversation away from this, back to clarification of business objectives. You’re not in a position to discuss solutions until you know what the problem is.
  • Probe to get specifics on the business objectives – you’re aiming for measureable, time focused objectives. Something you and the client can go back to in 6 or 12 months time to gauge success.

2: Behaviour not content

  • Focus your questions on the specific behaviour change required to achieve the business objective. At the core of every compliance requirement is behaviour change- organisations can only be ‘compliant’ with regulatory requirements when their employees are able to action what they know, not merely show what they know (short-term – e.g. in an assessment). Identifying this behaviour or performance outcome is critical to developing a solution that will actually meet the business objective.
  • Ask probing questions to find out as much as you can about the nature of the behaviour change required. It’s not demonstrated here in this discussion but it may also be very useful to go to the work environment of the target audience to see the environment for yourself, and talk to them to get direct insight on their daily challenges, fears, motivations and any other factors that may be relevant.

3: Acknowledge the ’10’, explore the ’70′

  • Acknowledge where and how the ‘10’ (formal training) might play a role; but take time to explore the ‘70’: workplace support needed to change the behaviour / achieve the performance outcome – beyond the initial training.

 4: Use data to build your case for the ‘70’

  •  Use data or examples from your prior experiences to build a case for the ‘70’. This could come from: previous projects you have been involved in, evaluation (level 1) feedback from employees in previous training rollouts, your own experiences of undertaking formal training, or as a facilitator/trainer/instructional designer.
  • Be clear on the limitations of formal learning approaches (e.g. content in LMS vs easily accessible performance support). Use examples to back you up.
  • Reframe the discussion: from training to performance support (or informal/social – balance depends on the specific requirements of the project).

5: Use/adapt/hack any existing resources

  • Make the most of any existing resources the business may already have – identify, use and adapt these for performance support (rather than simply as content in the training)

6: Scope the ’20’: social / informal support

  • Explore the ‘20’: what social / informal support could be harnessed or developed – this is essentially about facilitating an intentional social environment that can help support people to change behaviour / achieve the performance outcome. Look at what support is available in the target employees’ work environment now, then look at how it can be supported better, and made more intentional. Social learning is not new. It’s already currently happening every day (e.g. every time an employee turns around to their team member to ask where to find a document or how to do a task they are utilising the social / informal support network around them). The goal is to make it more intentional and effective.
  • This might involve identifying suitable people within the target audience’s work environment (e.g. their manager / supervisor)…or if none currently exist in the target environment for the required behaviour / performance outcome, identifying suitable people in the environment who may be able to play the support role (e.g. assigning ‘system champions’ to provide support). They may need some additional support or upskilling, plus manager buy-in to successfully fill the social/informal support role. We can help the business provide this support (e.g. ‘train the trainer’ upskilling)

7: Integrate comms & change with learning

  • Position comms and change as part of an integrated learning approach – targeted comms delivered pre and post learning can support a ‘campaign’ approach to the learning intervention. Pre-learning comms can support employees to be more receptive of the change and learning intervention; post learning comms can help support and embed behaviour change (> directing employees to performance support and social / informal resources that can provide ongoing assistance post-training).
  • Encourage the business to develop a relationship with the internal comms team (if you have one). It is ultimately the business’ responsibility to make this happen; although you can provide advice, encouragement, help facilitate it, and collaborate with comms on messaging to ensure it is consistent and integrated with learning.

8: Identify how business goals will be measured

  • Probe the business to identify how the business objectives will be measured – this then becomes the business impact measure you follow up with them on in 6 or 12 months time, to gauge success (Level 3 & 4 evaluation)
  • Leverage the business’ previous experience and knowledge of what works in their business environment / work context to identify appropriate ways of measuring success and appropriate performance support strategies.
  • Open up the conversation (& be open to new ideas yourself), share, and exchange ideas –> converse collaboratively to develop holistic, solutions with long term impact.


The outcome

Here is (part of) my presentation which I uploaded to Slideshare. I didn’t include all the videos since it was quite fiddly to do so on Slideshare (had to upload individual videos to YouTube, then insert videos as new slides)…this is probably enough to give you an idea.


Overall it was a great experience, and a lot of fun. I thank the team at ElNet especially Michael Gwyther (@mickgwyther), Shai Desai (@LearningPlan) & Leo Gregorc (@mundigoana) for giving me the opportunity and putting on a great event. (Planning to do a Storify covering reflections on the day too…soon).

Learning #4: have fun. Explore. Learn. Reflect. Narrate. Share. (blog about the experience).

Emergent collaboration in the rhizome

Can’t believe it’s been almost 3 months since I last wrote a post – lots going on, driving me to distraction and writing neglect…more posts to follow on these distractions. Before that though, I really wanted to finish a post which seems to have been permanently & erratically ‘in progress’ over the last couple of months. It is essentially a sequel to the previous post, and charts the wave of spontaneous, rapid, emergent collaborative creation that emerged unexpectedly from that post.  I wanted to do it justice by attempting to chart its course and along the way, attempt to make some sense of the experience.  It was one of many highlights for me in the #rhizo14 experience, which spawned a multitude of creative, intellectual, and academic collaborations, playful re-imaginings, remixes and experimentation with ideas.

Indeed, one of the best things about rhizo14 were the collaborations that seemed to sprout purely from mutually spontaneous excitement and energy. These include some really fascinating research collaborations (described by Frances Bell  here), and numerous creative collaborations – many of which I probably don’t even know about (although Maureen Crawford has linked out to many of the poetry collaborations <‘internet poempathy’>  here). What I think is most interesting is that these collaborations are emergent, spontaneous, unscripted, unplanned – not part of any premeditated curriculum, but instead evolved from participants sharing, experimenting ideas and creating something tangible from their shared ideas.

I haven’t been directly involved in the research collaborations (though have contributed as a participant) but I’m finding the emergent creative collaboration from #rhizo14 fascinating: the use of art as a form of inquiry (not simply artistic expression),  how the collaborations emerge – and how quickly they occur, how others are pulled in /invited / inspired to participate, and the continual, fluid morphing and evolution of the remix and its outputs, across multiple platforms and time.

Maureen Crawford (@jmc3alberta) in her post ‘Internet Poempathy’,  refers to this type of activity as ‘Internet Lingo’,  eloquently describing the experience:

Inevitably there are numerous layers (and leaps) that become more accessible after multiple readings. Sometimes there is no going back, only pushing or dancing forward with the traces of what you were able to connect with. ….This is a 3D, nonlinear, encompassing everchanging ecology. In its multiplicity Internet Lingo shuns duality. Right and wrong become more and more relative. There is a sense of play, of allusion, an infinite number possible connections and sequences….

What you will find is “written by far more than two people and consists of multi-media mash-ups of tweets, Storifies, blogs, and links too complex, convoluted and dynamic for any one reader to ever fully absorb. [It] is constantly evolving, thus forcing the reader to become a participant in a linguistic sense-making journey” (Crawford & Jones, 2013. unpublished). The dogtrax cross, the scent is lost, picked up and relocated, re-established across continents. . . and timezones.

This post is a postscript of sorts to the previous post, and a homage to the spontaneous remix,  creative collaboration & play that has emerged from it. Typical of the rhizome (or, perhaps – the Internet Lingo), this has unfolded across a multitude of platforms: in the comments on the previous blog post, twitter, soundcloud, YouTube, Zeega…and continues on, spreading and branching out into ever unpredictable places.

I decided to do chart the journey as a storify, since it was relatively easy to pull media from multiple platforms and most of the communication around the collaboration occurred through twitter. But then, only after I’d created it realised I couldn’t embed the storify into wordpress.com.

So here’s the link >  https://storify.com/tanyalau/the-spreading-rhizome

Agree//disagree: a poem and its inspirations.

..or hidden musings on conversation, community & making stuff up.

On Saturday morning, I was sitting with my 3 year old at a cafe having breakfast, and a few moments of silence passed between us.  As my mind wandered vaguely to some of the things I’d read the previous night, these lines came into my head:

Agree, disagree

I looked  for a pen. I didn’t have one. So as a small child ate raisin toast, I typed the lines into Evernote on my phone and some more came tumbling out. I paused a little in between, thinking about discrete things I’d mulled over, mostly during the previous evening. This is the poem (which I later put into notegraphy – thanks Mariana), and some of the thoughts and influences behind it.

agree-disagree, a poem

The norms we

The seeds of inspiration for these lines – and much of this poem – came from Mariana’s Storify ‘The interpersonal contract in cMoocs’ , which I’d actually come across from Jeff Merrell’s post ‘Teaching Uncertainly #rhizo14’. Here, Jeff talks about an open blogging assignment/experiment he’s running – and how one of his student’s blog posts (Andee Weinfurner @andeew38) was picked up and woven into this storify ^ by Mariana. I was intrigued (and actually a bit surprised) that he and Mariana hadn’t known of each other prior to this, and touched by the depth and thoughtfulness of their exchange in the comments on Jeff’s post. It reminded me, again, what catalysts blog posts can be in developing deeper connections with people – when you take the time to listen, reflect and respond thoughtfully. I love that I found both Jeff and Mariana in precisely this way – and I guess it’s no coincidence that they found each other this way too. Perhaps this is something of the human connection that Jeff’s student blogger Andee asks about in her post.

I was intrigued enough to click on the link to Mariana’s storify and was blown away by all that it said. It’s about the way we’re relating to each other in #rhizo14 (and cMOOCs generally) and the impact that the lack of explicit norms might have in shaping the rhizo14 dialogue and experience. Mariana’s storify was what I was thinking about on that Saturday morning. In particular, this:

As I read this again some days after, I’m struck by how much of this passage I internalised – its influence unmistakably present in those first few lines that came into my head that Saturday morning. So once again, Mariana has challenged me to think and reflect about my own behaviour (‘Is this something I do?’ ‘What impact might it have on the tenor of the dialogue?’). We tend to be brought up to value debate, logic, to take a strong position on something and defend it – argue to the death. Conceding to another is often perceived as a sign of mental weakness. What impact does this have on our ability to see the grey, the nuances in complexity? How does this impact our willingness to listen – really listen – to what someone else is saying? How often are we already thinking about how we’ll respond – and cutting in – before the other person has even had a chance to speak? I guess that is what this is about:


As I wrote this that morning, I was also thinking about Nick Kearney (@nickkearney)’s post ‘Marram Grass’, and Mariana’s comment on that, which I’d also seen the previous evening. Is conversation the community in #rhizo14? (the precise thought I’d had a couple of weeks ago). If so, where are these conversations occurring? And what do we even mean when we talk of ‘conversation’ online? It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot throughout rhizo14, and also as a result of concurrently helping coordinate a new L&D twitter chat (#OzLearn), plus the Sydney Third Place social/networking meetups – how is conversation taking place within these various spaces, what does it look like, what does it ‘feel’ like, similarities? differences? Is there ‘conversation’? Is there (emergent) ‘community’? It’s something I’ll be writing a more focused post on but this was all in my subconscious as I wrote these lines.

When trying to define something unknown online, you inevitably try to relate it to what’s familiar offline, in real life. And so it was on that Saturday morning. Thoughts of community conjured up visuals of church > nationalism > patriotism.

Of a nation
And unity – ?

Then, of course, there’s contrast:

Or distribution
And divergence
On their blogs

This ^ is actually a reference to divergent vs convergent thinking, raised by Maureen Crawford in a comment on my previous post, as well as in her own post ‘Networks are expanding our ignorance’. I recall distinctly this having a big impact on me as the realisation dawned that both ‘divergent browsing’ (e.g. rampant blog hopping…?!) and ‘convergent thinking’ (e.g. thoughtful reflection) are important and necessary, essential parts of the creative process.

And, as I started thinking about the process of blogging, what it feels like when you write a post (well, to me, anyway):

Moments of clarity

…simultaneously littered with uncertainty and self doubt, comparisons with others…the wondering of whether what you’re writing even makes sense, the feeling that you’re just  making it up as you go – and hoping that nobody notices (or that at least they don’t call you out too badly for it…)

and farcity

(And yes, I made up those words…cos there aren’t that many words that rhyme with ‘clarity’  or ‘parity’, and once I started, it was hard to stop. Too much fun. And it kinda fits with the theme.)

Embryonic thoughts put out to sea
Posting letters
up in a tree
planting rhizomes
weeds that spread
messages in bottles
we set them free

The sea references ^ are again Maureen-Crawford-inspired, with a little bit of Ryan Tracey serendipity added into the mix. Here’s the story: a few days ago, Maureen tweeted me this:


Initially I was just going to respond a simple (normal) reply of thanks…but decided that would be boring and responded by poem instead (harder in 140 chars than you might imagine! But it was Friday, I was feeling playful):


Just after I sent that I went and had a look at a link which Ryan Tracey (@ryantracey) had posted on my previous post…and was amazed to find it led to this:

Wow. How’s that for serendipty?! (We both agreed it was a little creepy….but as it turned out there were more serendipitous moments to be had….).

The bit about trees and rhizomes was, I’m sure, my mind casting itself back to this bit of Mariana’s Storify:



And then, later that night, well after I’d written it, I also took at look at another of Mariana’s storifies ‘Help stamp out nouns’, the ending of which communicates exactly the feeling  I was trying to convey with those made up words in the poem.

None of us really know what we’re on about: we’re just all fumbling around in the dark together. And maybe that’s (at least in part) what ‘community as curriculum’ really means. Making sense of what we’re making up. Together.

Reflections on digital landfills and echoing content

I comment a fair bit on other people’s blogs, discussion forums etc. Somehow I find it much easier to comment on someone else’s blog  – I think it’s about being part of a conversation, the focus on joint contribution, rather than solely just my words. I’ve never particularly enjoyed being the centre of attention.

I’ve contemplated posting comments as blog posts. But I kind of like the idea of keeping my comments, in their place of origin, embedded in its original context. I feel something of their history might be lost by  uprooting them – by dismembering them from the dialogue. So I’ve resisted. Until now.

I’m posting my comment in response to this post ‘Digital landfills and creativity’ by Mariana Funes (aka DS106 shrink) to remember its message. It’s about the possible consequences of our ever-increasing – and often mindless – consumption, sharing and creation of digital content. It really, truly made me question my own assumptions about the value of sharing and content creation, to critically assess the depth of my engagement, and reflect on my experiences of open online learning –  in particular rhizo14, where I’ve often felt distracted by the abundance, almost too distracted to engage. Mariana’s post was inspired by ‘Echoes of content’ by Alastair Creelman – an equally excellent post on this theme of thoughtless sharing and creation. Would definitely encourage the reading – and consideration – of both posts. As I thought about Mariana’s post the following morning,  lines of poem came to me, which I scrawled (in pink texta – 1st thing within reach) on scraps of paper . I typed out the poem with this comment (written after the poem >and I think writing the poem actually enabled me to articulate some semi-coherent thoughts). I’ve repackaged the poem against the backdrop of my scrawled notes – a remix, of sorts.

wow, what an incredibly thought provoking post. I started writing a response last night, but then abandoned it as I wasn’t quite sure what to say or whether it would be coherent.

This is a hard one. Because I recognise the personal value in regular practice of creativity, writing, reflection, narration, blogging – even ‘half baked’ thoughts for others to play with and explore, remix and remake.

However, your post has highlighted the flipside of creating a culture that values creation and sharing above all else, that equates posting evidence of thinking *with* the existence of thought itself. No longer is it enough to reflect privately, we must share and declare our reflections. The culture it creates is one of constant distraction, constant pressure to post and to advertise your postings, to demonstrate your engagement. There is an underlying sense of competition about it, of jostling to get the most comments and most likes. It creates a constant pressure to create, but also to consume and to comment, we’re flying through posts leaving our breadcrumbs of thought. But how deeply are we reflecting and thinking? How meaningful is our engagement?

I’ve been struggling with this a bit in rhizo14 – the abundance, the pressure to create and consume. I’ve got about 20 tabs open, 4 half finished blog posts, and pages and scraps of notes and half finished thoughts. All of which I haven’t shared (yet). Though I feel the pressure to. And I will (eventually).

Yet I don’t know that the answer is to actually or completely stop what we’re doing. I’ve definitely got value out of others’ ‘half baked’ thoughts – and as Alan points out, even when there is no direct comment, or explicit evidence that someone has visited or read or thought about what you’ve posted, chances are someone has – or will.

So in the end, I have rambled and rumbled through this reply…not proposing any real ‘answer’ or solution. But I guess that’s part of the point – it’s a complex question without a definitive answer. Embracing uncertainty.

I’ve found myself spontaneously thinking in poem a lot through this rhizo14 experience. When I’ve written down the poetic threads of thought I’ve realised why: often the poem is a much more succinct expression of my thoughts. Thoughts that are too complex to make into a coherent post or response.

I was thinking about this post you wrote when I got up this morning, and amongst the threads of thought were some lines of poem that came into my head. I sat down and wrote them out. Here is what came out:


Excellent conversations have emerged across both blogs – and in the context of this week’s topic about books making us stupid,  I say maybe: because no book enables to anyone to engage directly in conversation with the author immediately after publishing. The only downside? A digital landfill.

rhizo14: stole that poem

Something that caught my eye last week as I was dipping in and out of rhizo14 was Kevin Hodgson’s (@dogtrax) slam-style poem challenging people to “steal this poem” – to take the words he’d written and recorded, and remix them. This was a riff on the theme of plagiarism, ownership/copyright & remix culture that emerged from the week 1 rhizo14 topic “cheating as learning”. I love his response on so many levels – it’s an awesomely creative and thought provoking exploration of whether taking and remixing someone’s work constitutes as ‘stealing’, beautifully executed. I love the style and I was incredibly intrigued by the questions raised by the poem and his post (which I wrote some initial thoughts on in his blog). I love that he’s inviting (or challenging) people to take his work, explore it, and remix it into something new – it’s a challenge to think and respond more creatively – and, (in DS106 tradition) to create art (dammit!). I love this, and found it very inspiring – and knew I had to do it as soon as I saw it. 

I was interested in the question of whether remixing constitutes stealing – and saw a lot of parallels between use of the terms ‘stealing’ and ‘cheating’, debated in areas of the rhizo14 community. So this is what I explored in my poem. I was also interested in the idea of executing a literal interpretation of Kevin’s challenge: literally ‘taking the words’, reusing, & remixing them to create a new poem. So I’ve tried to use as many of Kevin’s words as I can in mine. The slam style that Kevin’s adopted is also reminiscent of rap, with a strong internal beat, rhyme, rhythm & flow. It’s a style I love and that I’ve also incorporated in mine. A bit like battle-rapping, on paper.

I also wanted to make Kevin’s text visible in my remix, for 2 reasons: to see the crossover between his words and mine; and to explore the question of whether taking and remixing a work without attributing its source constitutes as ‘stealing’ . I’ve copied the full text of his poem into my remix without attributing it. Does this constitute ‘stealing’? You could probably argue that, in principle, it does. But if Kevin’s invited me to ‘steal his poem’, and I’ve stated in my work that it’s a ‘stolen’ work, does this change things?

There’s a bit of a story behind the picture I’ve used as the background too. A story of serendipity: the morning after reading Kevin’s poem, as I was tinkering with my remix, Maureen Crawford sent me this tweet:

MC_tweet_visualpoetry Evan Roth’s work was, I thought,  like a modern riff on finger painting…and I loved Maureen’s description of it as ‘visual poetry’. My 3 year old was sitting next to me playing a game on the tablet and it clicked: I should get my kid to make some art as part of the remix –> ‘visual poetry’. I often get him involved in DS106 daily creates, it’s fun to do together. But what…? I had the rhizo learning P2Pu page open in one of my tabs. The image for the course was kinda like…finger painting. Click. I downloaded a kid’s drawing app onto the tablet then gave it to my 3 year old. The background image for my stolen poem is his drawing – a digital (Maureen Crawford-Evan Roth-P2Pu rhizo learning-inspired) ‘finger painting’ (I’ve just put a layer of white at 30% opacity over it to make the text legible). Combined with the poem, it’s another remix on the concept of ‘visual poetry’.

Another form of  ‘visual poetry’ that I’ve played with in my remix is the use of spacing, keyboard symbols & highlights of colour in the body text. This was something I experimented with a fair bit when I was a lot younger (like, 15) and it was fun to revisit this idea again here. I rarely write poems now and have always been an erratic poetry writer in any case but I do love the form, and experimenting with it.

I went visual with this remix partly because I’m naturally drawn to visuals, but also because I don’t *actually* have the confidence to post an audio version (re my reference: ‘Not spoken’…). However, since hearing Cathleen Nardi’s audio remix (great hip hop interpretation!), I’ve been thinking about audio a bit more. I’ve got an idea to do an audio remix of my poem using cuts from Kevin and Cathleen’s audio. I’m not sure if it would work or how it would sound but really intrigued to do the experiment. It could take a while though, so I’m just posting the visual version for now. And of course, I’m putting it out with an invitation (or challenge – interpret it as you like) to: >>> STEAL THIS POEM!