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.

Emergent collaboration in the rhizome

This is 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

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!


Why rhizo14

So, we’re now in week 2 of Dave Cormier’s Rhizomatic Learning ‘course’ (I use that term in the loosest possible way) and I’m only just now sitting down to write some posts about it. I’ve been exploring the various spaces (P2PU, Google+, Twitter, Facebook, participants’ blogs …), reading, commenting. I initially contemplated limiting my participation to just that. But, I feel I’ve got to (steal?) some  time now to block out the chatter, reflect, consolidate and try to make sense of the chaos. It’s a challenge because the conversations are so compelling, and the exploration so much fun it can be difficult to tear yourself away.

So: why rhizo14?

It all started when I saw this post from Vanessa Vaile in the G+ Learning and Change community. I’d previously seen Vahid Masrour post about it too, and I just had to take a look…

. G+_rhizopost_VV

As soon as I read Dave Cormier’s ‘Unguided tour of Rhizo14’ (a ‘course intro’ of sorts…), I was hooked.

What got me hooked

  • I love that Dave acknowledges right up that it’s going to be chaotic and that you may find yourself lost (& possibly thinking things like: “this is the biggest time waster ever”, “that Dave guy has no idea what he’s talking about…”). My experience with xplrpln taught me that messy learning can lead to big breakthroughs in thinking – and that the process entails periods of feeling very perplexed and lost. So the promise of chaos actually appealed immediately.
  • I love that he presents this as an experiment and says “I mostly don’t know what I’m doing”. Clearly tongue in cheek but what he’s really saying is that his MO is to try new things. I love this attitude. And this notion of the course ‘convener’/ ‘instructor’/ ‘teacher’ (again, all terms used in the loosest of ways) not having all (or even any) of the answers and learning along with everyone else again reflected Jeff Merrell and Kimberley Scott’s approach to their role in xplrpln (as “scholar-practitioners”). I love this type of learning. It democratises the experience and  –  I think, is probably an essential position to take when delving into complex topics. Because in complexity, there actually ARE no ‘correct’ answers. (So let’s not pretend there are). And much of what you gain from  learning this way is how to navigate uncertainty, the courage to share ‘half baked ideas’ (trademark Jeff Merrell) for others to explore, comment and build on, and the ability to analyse, think critically about, build, adapt and remix the half baked ideas that others put out.
  • I was  intrigued by the multi-platform setup (P2PUFacebook TwitterGoogle+, participants’ blogs, and anywhere else you want). Multiple access points and multiple ways to engage provides options for participants, lowers the barriers for engaging (participants don’t have to ‘learn’ or get used to a new and unfamiliar platform), and provides an opportunity for people to dip in and out of different groups. It’s also a potential source of complexity and I’m intrigued by how this will impact the learning experience. I’ve also never used Facebook seriously as a learning tool (very much exclusively social – and not much at that; I’m not often on it, and really, if I am it’s invariably to comment or ‘like’ a post about friends’ babies or children….) , so interested to see if and how my perspective changes on it.
  • I love that he depicts it not as a ‘course’ –  more like a party or going on camp. Pitching it this way immediately changes the ‘feel’ of this experience, from something potentially esoteric or onerous, to something totally social, fun, and doable: “You might just like to chat with people.” (Yeah, I can do that! And I like doing that!). “You might try to make one really good friend.” (xplrpln showed me it is entirely possible to make more than one good friend through interaction in an online course. An opportunity to do that again is hard to resist). “You might have gone to camp to challenge yourself or to just kinda hang out a little.” (I’d like to aim for the former, but I’ll still get something out of it if I only manage the latter. And the decision of what and how much is left entirely up to me. I like that.). “Don’t know where to start. Write something somewhere and tell us why you joined.” (Ok. Here you go. Bit late, but clearly that’s irrelevant in a course with no explicit objectives – other than those you impose on yourself).
  • I loved the sense of excitement I felt at reading his intro – the sense that this was something that would explore the edges of what’s possible in open online learning. And who could resist being part of something like that?

So – despite the fact that I’m feeling somewhat over committed already (what with a Masters to finish, helping get the new #ozlearn Twitter chat up and running, organising a Sydney Third Place meetup, working full time, with a 3 year old and family I don’t really want to neglect….), I’m here.

What are my objectives?

So seeing as the one of the key things of rhizo learning is about finding your own path (there are no ‘course’ objectives…), here are some of mine. I’m sure more will emerge as time goes on….

  • explore and engage with people on the full range of platforms – including ones I’m not used to. Observe what differences or  similarities there might be:  in people, types of conversations, tone, and  interaction across different platforms….
  • discover and develop meaningful relationships with new people with interests that intersect mine
  • reflect on the ‘course’ design – and implications & experience of rhizomatic learning. Consider what and how various components  of the design and this type of learning might be applied or adapted to support better learning in a corporate workplace environment

Next up: my week 1 post – in poem form.

Towards sustainable eLearning development

One of the challenges emerging within our centralised OD structure is how to sustainably support the needs of 5 diverse organisations with fewer resources than we previously had supporting just one.  The challenge exists across the range of OD services, but as the person responsible for eLearning, I’ve been pondering how we might work towards a sustainable eLearning design and development model. Here are some approaches I think are worth experimenting with:

Develop collaborative partnerships

There are opportunities to develop collaborative partnerships to share eLearning design and development effort. These include:

  • Partnerships with external vendors and/or contractors: rather than outsourcing an entire eLearning project, do all or part of the design (high level design spec and/or storyboard / scripting) internally and outsource the development / build. This reduces the cost and makes the best use of resources because we are best placed to understand the business, audience, and work context (critical for developing an appropriate design approach), and development of a design spec can feasibly be incorporated as an extension of initial scoping and consultation required for any project. Module build requires a concerted block of time and effort which I don’t often have.
  • Partnerships with the business or SMEs: there are currently pockets of the business with eLearning authoring tools and skills, and who have been doing their own design and development for some time. We can add value by providing advice, mentoring, reviewing / refining their work, and/or collaborating on design and development.
  • Cross-cluster collaboration: whilst there are 5 separate transport agencies, there is an opportunity for cross-cluster collaboration on  projects where a common need exists. This enables budgets to be pooled, reduces duplication and increases efficiency. This approach works with much compliance content (e.g. bullying & harassment, office ergonomics / manual handling, information security…).
  • Partner with comms: there may be an opportunity to partner more closely with comms, where the need relates to general ‘awareness raising’. Either in developing a comms solution instead of a ‘learning’ or ‘training’ solution or comms + learning/training (see also final point “Consider whether eLearning or training is an appropriate solution at all”).

Modular design for reuse and repurposing

Taking a modular design approach –  develop small, self contained modules each covering a single topic, rather than one (say, 45 minute) module covering a number topics. This can increase the capacity for reuse and repurposing of content across diverse business and audience groups: modular content opens up the possibility of mixing and matching modules to create customised learning programs for different groups (e.g. Safety intro + office ergonomics + manual handling for office workers VS Safety intro + PPE + manual handling for field based staff).

Review and customise existing content

Rather than creating a custom solution from scratch, review existing content that may exist across the cluster, and look at customising that to meet the need. Sure there may need to be some compromises made, but in an age where change is constant, content dates rapidly – almost immediately in some instances. In this climate it may not be worth the time, effort and money required to create custom content.

Purchase off-the-shelf content

Look at whether a suitable off-the-shelf solution exists before considering custom content development. Ideally off-the-shelf content is also developed in an authoring tool we own so that content can be edited in-house.

Content curation

Curating content from a variety of sources rather than creating original content. Basically an extension of the above approaches.

Supporting user generated content and collaborative knowledge sharing

Rather than creating and delivering / broadcasting content, give employees the opportunity to create and share their own content / learning / resources with others. A collaborative ‘bottom up’, rather than authoritative ‘top down’ approach. Essentially, it’s supporting the organic social learning and knowledge sharing that often already happens in most teams and business units.  The opportunity is to make the sharing more widespread, and for OD to support it by providing platforms for doing it, and helping to develop the skills that enables it to be done effectively.

Consider whether eLearning or training is an appropriate solution at all

Really look at whether eLearning content needs to be developed to meet the need at all.  Or whether, in fact, it is even the most effective way to address the need. This requires good front end analysis, and thinking outside the training mindset. This may often lead to a performance support solution instead of, or alongside, some smaller training intervention. Cathy Moore has a most excellent post and flowchart to help decide if training really is the answer.

From L&D to OD

I had a fairly minimal formal ‘induction’ into my current role, but one of the more interesting sessions I attended was about the rationale behind the creation of the Organisational Development (OD) structure – in particular, the move from a number of distributed and independent ‘Learning and Development’ or ‘Training Departments’ to the centralised ‘OD’ business unit that now exists in our organisation.

A key driver was to create efficiencies and cost savings – an obvious goal of centralised services. But what seemed progessive and positive about the reform process was that existing L&D functions weren’t simply mapped and consolidated into a single super structure. Stakeholders took the opportunity to reframe and redefine the role of L&D in the organisation, moving it beyond just providing ‘learning solutions’ and training delivery to make it explicitly about  developing organisational capability.

From divisional to functional structures

I read a really interesting post on organisational structures recently which helped me to conceptualise the nature of this change more concretely. This was Ben Thompson’s post on why Microsoft’s restructure is a bad idea. In it, he discusses divisional vs functional org structures, and the differences between them. And essentially, this is exactly the organisational change we’ve gone through in our L&D > OD restructure: moving from a number of independent, distributed L&D / training departments within each transport agency (division), to one centralised OD department structured on functional lines, supporting all transport agencies. Here is my ‘back of the envelope’ visual of the change, based on the  diagrams of divisional vs functional org structures in Ben Thompson’s post:


Thus our OD structure now consists of 4 main functional units:

  • Capability services – embedded OD business partners, talent pipeline/graduate/apprentice programs, diversity & equity
  • Learning services – learning design & delivery, trainer professional development
  • Change and Leadership services – innovation, organisational change & org design
  • Service Quality & Assurance – RTO/compliance, training admin, LMS / system support

Not just a structural change

But the new OD business unit doesn’t just represent a structural change; it also represents a qualitative change from L&D unit/s focused on training design and delivery to a broader business model which includes functions specifically focused on developing organisational capability and supporting organisational change, design and innovation – in addition to the learning design/delivery, and ‘back of house’ (training admin, LMS / system support) functions of traditional ‘L&D’ departments.

Functional teams need collaborative cultures

One of the most interesting points in Ben Thompson’s post was:

Divisional organisations have competitive cultures; functional organisations need collaborative ones.

In other words: cross functional teams must work together in order to succeed and achieve outcomes for the business.

Current challenges

Some of the challenges to achieving this collaborative culture that I’m witnessing / experiencing in this early stage of transition to the new OD structure (about 6 weeks in) include:

Past legacies

Employees who have moved from one of the previous L&D / training departments to the new OD business unit, must let go of their previous role and association with their previous transport agency (division), learn what their new role entails, and adjust their perspective as being part of an OD function supporting all 5 transport agencies (this may include a transition from viewing other agencies as competitors to viewing them as collaborators). This takes time and may be a challenge for some.

Command & control cultures and hierarchical structures

Another legacy is a command and control culture, and hierarchical structure, which I think will remain to varying degrees for some time to come. This sometimes brings with it a tendency to escalate issues up the chain, rather than addressing issues directly with relevant parties. The layer of approvals often required to make or enact decisions also impacts organisational agility and the ability to achieve outcomes quickly.

Pace and extent of change

The pace and extent of change that has occurred means that roles and responsibilities are still quite fuzzy – people are still in the process of learning what their role entails, what the various positions are, and what they do. You can only collaborate constructively with someone once you have a clear understanding of what they do in relation to what you do, and how you might be able to work together to achieve your respective goals.

Technology ‘blockers’ (…?)

Bringing together a number of diverse agencies has meant operating in an environment where agency networks and systems don’t talk to each other, and contending with Outlook entries that have missing or incorrect details. It’s near impossible to support an agency if you can’t access their systems remotely, and difficult to collaborate across teams without phone or email contact. In saying that however I’ve discovered there is a positive flipside to this: it forces you to get up from behind your desk and physically seek out the person you’re looking for.  As this often involves talking to a number of different people  to reach the person you’re after, you end up making a number of new connections in the process.

I’ve also found that having more face to face conversations makes you more inclined to be social in informal situations – so I’m now having more unstructured conversations with new people in the kitchen, the corridors, at desks – spontaneously building an informal network that will no doubt lead to cross functional collaboration in the future.

The lesson? In an age where we increasingly depend upon technology as an enabler to collaboration, it’s important not to underestimate the value of real, live face to face conversation in building trust and a foundation for future collaboration.