Benefits of sharing research-in-progress

I hesitated at first to share my research proposal.  I wondered about the possibility of introducing potential participant bias by making the research methodology transparent. But due to the nature of the research (exploratory, descriptive) I decided this risk was minimal. (It might have been a different matter if I were intending to do blind experimental study though….)

Besides, the benefits of sharing – even research-in-progress – has outweighed any initial reservations I had. As my friend Toni observed:

Sharing my proposal (and a few other research related writings-in-progress: here and here), has generated lots of really helpful feedback, support and conversations via my own PLN, which has in turn developed my ideas and evolved my thinking. For example:

Support from Nick Leffler, Tania Sheko & Toni Rose Pinero

Commenting on my post, Nick Leffler @technkl shared  his experiences and struggles during his own MA research, and also linked me to his research project (which was the first I’d learnt he’d done a research Masters too). Doing research for the first time is no easy task, and talking to someone who’s been through it before and can empathise with the trials and tribulations can really help.

Tania Sheko (@taniatorikova) shared her experiences (challenges & frustrations) of not having informal learning and professional development from her PLN recognised at the school she works at – helping me realise that schools and organisations are probably more similar than they are different.

And…ever since I met her (through #rhizo14) Toni Rose Pinero (@moocresearch) and I have had ongoing conversations about our respective research Masters projects. Posting my proposal helped reignite the conversation and we’ve been checking in with each other more regularly this year to provide mutual support.

This type of support I see as building the  “structural embeddedness” (who knows what) and “relational embeddedness” (social climate of trust and reciprocity) – two of the three components that Van Den Hooff et al 2010 identified as necessary for a network to make a positive contribution to (workplace) performance.

Feedback and resources from Ryan Tracey

I got some great constructive feedback from Ryan Tracey (@ryantracey) including suggestions for refining the research design and proposal. Ryan also sent me an extremely relevant article “Secret Power Brokers – The ties that bind our workplace” – a study on how several large Australian organisations are using social network maps to identify hitherto  hidden ‘power brokers’: extremely well connected employees who hold a lot of influence within the organisation through their (informal) role as trusted advisors, key opinion makers and change agents. Often these critical people are unknown to management, as their influence resides in the informal employee networks that develop through the flow of work rather than the the formal structures represented on the org chart. It reminded me very much of the study by Whelan et al (2011) Creating employee networks that deliver open innovation, which forms a critical base for my own research, and had similar findings to the article Ryan sent me.

Conversations & evolving thinking with Con Sotidis & Helen Blunden

A thought provoking twitter conversation with Con Sotidis (@LearnKotch), following on from a comment on Helen Blunden’s (@ActivateLearn) blog helped developed my thinking on the tension between personal vs organisational values relating to PLNs (a hot topic in #xplrpln). In particular, I was intrigued by this suggestion by Con on developing an ROI model for a PLN:

Whilst I wasn’t entirely convinced of the concept, it definitely got me thinking about how such a thing might or might not work – and why. The twitter conversation got us both thinking.  The next day, Con wrote a LinkedIn post on the value of PLNs, where we continued to exchange thoughts on this – how one determines the ‘value’ of their PLN – who to connect with, who to filter out, how and what we share with our PLNs. Thinking out loud in the comments on Con’s post helped me develop my thinking on this…as did Helen’s blog post on ‘exploring innovations in networked work & learning’ (the open ‘course’ / section of msloc430 that Jeff Merrell is running at the moment).

Part of what I wrote in response to Helen’s post was this:

I’ve been thinking about this a lot more since and think it might come down to alignment in values – between the individual and the organisation. I don’t think an organisation will ever be able to ask an individual to ‘utilise’ their PLN purely for organisational benefit: this will only happen IF the individual wants to. An individual will only ever WANT to build and leverage their PLN to support organisational goals if they are inherently engaged in what they do, and want to improve what they do at work (i.e. if they’re intrinsically motivated). And they will only ever WANT to do this, if their personal values are aligned with the organisation’s.

Through these conversations, I’m coming to the conclusion that the key to an individual leveraging the expertise of their PLN to meet organisational goals will result not from a ‘top down’ implementation / demand from leaders or the organisation that they do so (or even good role modelling of the behaviour from said leaders)…but from an alignment of values between the individual and the organisation. This could be a thread worth exploring further…a thread I may not have realised had it not been for sharing and connecting with my PLN on my research proposal.

Refs

Durkin, P (2014, July) Secret Power Brokers: the ties that bind our workplace. AFR BOSS, 28-31

Retrieved from: http://www.optimice.com.au/documents/secretpowerbrokers.pdf

Van Den Hooff, B; Van Weenen, F; Soekijad, M; Huysman, M (2010) The value of online networks of practice: the role of embeddedness and media use. Journal of Information Technology, suppl. Special Issue on Social Networking 25.2 (Jun 2010): 205-215

Whelan, E; Parise, S; de Valk, J; & Aalbers, R (2011) Creating employee networks that deliver open innovation. MIT Sloan Management Review 53 (1) 37-44

Retrieved from: http://sloanreview.mit.edu/article/creating-employee-networks-that-deliver-open-innovation

 

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!).

Writing

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:

Meetups

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.

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:

Elnet_response

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

Scripting

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.

Casting

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.

Equipment

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

Setup

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.

Editing

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

twitter_editconvo

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.

Thanks

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).

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
Debate
Abate…

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

Agree//Disagree
Debate.
Abate.
The norms we
Storm
Thru
Conversation

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:

Communication?
Or
Obsfucation
Sublimation

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.

Congregation
Of a nation
Community
And unity – ?

Then, of course, there’s contrast:

Or distribution
And divergence
Individuals
Do
Convergence.
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…)

Parity
Sparity
Sparcity
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:

@jmca3ualberta_machado

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):

@jmca3ualberta_machado_reply

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:

***

Postscript:

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:

Rabbitholes1Rabbitholes2

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.

Reflections on xplrpln

Well, it’s been over two weeks since xplrpln (Exploring Personal Learning Networks open online seminar) finished, and I finally feel ‘ready’ to sit down and write some final reflections.  I’ve been considering how to approach this for a while. There’s much I could say about it – hard to know where and how to start. I’ve also been enjoying getting into other people’s artifacts, and continuing some of the conversations.

But here are some of the Big Things I learnt from xplrpln.

About PLNs and organisations

Although I ended up doing a ‘cautiously optimistic’ pitch to the CEO in my final artifact, I still wasn’t entirely comfortable about the idea. The problem I had/have wasn’t with the idea of PLNs in organisations, or individuals utilising their PLNs to meet their workplace learning needs. This is something that is already happening now. Per tweet I posted in the final xplrpln twitter chat:

PLN_Org_wk5tweet

And I think this sums up my (current) position: I’m comfortable with PLNs in organisations – but on individuals’ own terms. The discomfort I had was with the idea of pitching PLNs in orgs to the CEO. Because the likelihood is that the CEO or other leaders / managers in the organisation will want individuals to ‘use’ their PLNs exclusively to meet the organisation’s needs and goals. This is in conflict with the fundamental tenet of PLNs: that they are Personal, developed and maintained by the individual. So it’s the individual who gets to decide how they use their network, and who they include in it. Not the organisation.

Sure, you can try to put measures in place for mitigating this risk (and I made some recommendations in my artifact around this) but ultimately, the problem is the existing structures within organisations  (incl leader / management attitudes, power issues, performance management processes, hierarchies, closed networks….) simply aren’t set up to support wide scale, networked learning and working in this way. Kristen Corpolongo’s tweet in one of the final twitter chats really brought this home for me:

@KirstenCorpo_PLN_reflectionstweet

It goes back to what Maureen Crawford said early on about society’s move towards networks as a paradigm shift:

MaureenCrawford_PLNs_paradigmshift

And unless an organisation has made that shift, it’s doubtful whether a pitch for PLNs to a CEO will actually ‘work’.

That said, I still believe that individuals can and should continue to develop and draw on their own PLNs to support their workplace learning needs – and encourage others to develop their own. And perhaps, once the groundswell of bottom-up action on PLNs reaches critical mass, leaders within organisations will start actually taking some notice and realise that this is something they need to do themselves too – and support – within their organisation. Because until leaders know the true value of PLNs (and they can only realise this by developing, maintaining and using their own), pitching to them on the benefits of PLNs is likely to lead to ‘exploitation’ of an individual’s PLN – as described by Helen Blunden in her final reflections:

HelenBlunden_PLNreflections

I’ve really appreciated Helen’s sharing of her personal experiences throughout xplrpln (e.g. in her blog post above, plus G+ discussions). It provided unique (and timely) insight into the very real tensions between the individual and the organisation regarding PLNs. It’s been big in helping me  see how much work there still is to do before we get to the paradigm shift that Maureen refers to.

About cMOOCs, connection & conversation

Open attitude + mutual engagement
I’m starting to think that an open attitude to learning / sharing, and mutual cognitive engagement is what drives learning in connectivist online learning environments. It was without doubt, the in-depth conversations that made this so interesting. But this couldn’t have happened without participants being equally interested, passionate and engaged enough in the topic to participate.

Meaningful and authentic conversation
I’m amazed at the depth of conversation we were able to achieve in this space, and all without ever meeting face to face. I think contributing factors included: open attitude +  mutual engagement, the presence of complexity and ambiguity (providing much scope for exploration) and a certain level of comfort with online tools and social sharing.

Diversity of learners
A diverse pool of participants led me to learning things I otherwise would never have known about. I loved how the xplrpln community included those from corporate, higher ed, not-for-profits, freelancers and more. Through Kay Assant’s brilliant ‘PLN House of Horrors’, I learnt that university management have the same control issues as corporates, and Karen Jeanette and Stephen Judd schooled me on Cooperative Extension organisations.

Twitter and G+ as conversation spaces
I’ve been introduced to new experiences with Twitter: as a space for thought provoking, even perspective-changing conversation (which I wrote about previously), and using Hootsuite (thanks to Keeley Sorotki’s excellent post) to follow streams and check in on what’s happening in other MOOCs, chats, conferences etc has improved my Twitter experience a lot. I’ve also discovered G+ as a place where interesting and in depth conversation seems to happen. As a largely open space (but with the option for privacy), it seems to offer a good balance to support online communities. It’ll be interesting to see what our G+ xplrpln community evolves into.

cMoocs & open online learning experiences
Finally, I’ve been thinking a fair bit about cMoocs and what makes them work – and particularly, how much of the experience can be ‘designed’. I do think there needs to be the right balance of structure vs freedom, and I think Jeff and Kimberley achieved this balance. Parts of the ‘design’ that I think were critical to its success (at least for me) included:
  • Overarching structure: this helped to maintain focus, and provided a framework for moving forward (if left to our own devices we might still be in the throes of week 2, debating the differences between PLN, PLE, CoP, NoP, OLN, PKM, and the multitude of other complementary concepts out there!).
  • Artifact assignment: although I thought at one point I might not even submit one, the process of thinking through how I’d communicate my current position and thinking WAS helpful.
  • Encouraging ‘half baked ideas’: pitching the course as an ‘exploration into ambiguity’ was a brilliant strategy. It acknowledged up front that nobody knew any of the answers, that coming up with ‘answers’ was going to be complex and challenging – and that there might be more questions than answers by the end. And that this was ok. Moreover, this exploration was something we would be doing together. And that actually, this was kind of the point of the seminar. This was a master stroke because what it did was open up the conversation from the outset, by making it ok (in fact, desirable!) to put forward ‘half baked ideas’, and to ask lots of questions of each other without feeling stupid.  In the same vein, Jeff’s positioning of the artifact as a representation of thinking….for now – was what encouraged me to actually create one. Thinking about it as something that could evolve took the pressure off: it didn’t have to be perfect, just an articulation of my current thinking.
  • Intentional recruitment of awesome people: I’m aware that (at least) Jeff was quite intentional in scouting out people for this seminar, and I think this had a significant impact on the quality and depth of conversation. There was an energy and level of engagement that you only get when you bring together group of people who are equally interested, enthusiastic, and open to exploring and sharing ideas on a common topic of interest. And whilst this isn’t the first time I’ve experienced this level of engagement and depth of conversation in an online space (it has been reminiscent of collaborative learning experiences from my Masters in Learning Science & Technology), I think the big difference with an open online experience like this, is that these people become part of your PLN. And this opens up potential opportunities to continue developing relationships beyond the learning experience.  This has already started to happen (thanks to a somewhat timely opportunity to meet Helen Blunden at the Learning@Work conference last week!), and there are others who I’ll definitely be following, and finding opportunities to continue conversations with.

Inspired by Kimberly Scott’s opening blog post I was actually going to construct a haiku out of a brilliant tweet from Helen Crump defining PLNs to close this post…however I can’t seem to find the tweet now and it’s Very Late – so might have to wait until next post (tomorrow!).

Emergent thinking in #xplrpln

One of the most interesting things about participating in #xplrpln is observing how our current thinking evolves and new thinking emerges as a result of engaging with others’ ideas – either through reading and/or commenting on blogs, participating in a discussion forum, chat session, or reading and responding to tweets.

It’s fascinating, this process of wading through the threads of thought, picking and teasing out the threads that you identify with, playing with them,  to work out how they fit in with your own, and – as has happened more often than not over the past 3 weeks – integrating new thought-threads to evolve and tweak your own thinking.

I’m as interested in the process of how learning occurs through participatory open online education experiences like #xplrpln, as I am in the content being covered. One of the things I’d like to do is to observe and describe the interactions and experiences that have the most impact on my learning and thinking as we progress, to try to better understand the open online learning process (more to come on that….)

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Post script: Inspiration

This rather short post was inspired by Maureen Crawford’s awesomely poetic suggestion (challenge?) to wite more regularly in order to get out of being too precious about your writing.  Her own thoughts-in-progress style reminded me of the reason I started this blog in the first place: to explore, experiment and reflect on ideas. Narrating thoughts in short regular bursts seem like a perfect way to do this.

So there’s my “try something new” for this week. Thanks Maureen!