Travels with my laptop Day 1: Sydney to Monterey

Travel was reasonably trouble free if not fortuitous; upgrade on plane, early arrival of flight, fast customs and immigration clearance, early shuttle bus and hotel room ready on arrival for early check-in. Come to think of it I was blessed!

Reflections…

It is so much more pleasant entering the USA via San Francisco than LAX. It’s real case of less is more -less crowded, less hard edged and all up less stressful.

It is going to take time to recalibrate my brain for time zones. Working ostensibly online I have most of the world times figured out from my Sydney frame of reference. Being on the west coast of the USA has me a little discombobulated. Since while here I am still offering online workshops for Asia-Pacific teachers I have to quickly get my head straight.

Monterey is very attractive, historic and walkable with the people,  as most Americans are, very genuine and considerate. Saving my sight seeing and photos until Monday as I needed to sleep lots to get into this time.

Where does education learn?

In the FOC08 course our week 6 task is to examine some forums and look for evidence of community and consider options to further develop community in the groups formed around these forums. OK – so lots of community activity might be happening but not evident in a group’s online forum but the idea of the task is to surface important issues of community. The comparative process used in this week will be reused with different modes of communication over the next 4 weeks (blogs, virtual worlds etc).

So many of us in education are used to closed forums, where members participate because it is part of an assessment process. In the online Elluminate meeting we discussed where we should find these online forums. And this point worries me. We do not have a monopoly on online learning and certainly not community development just because we work in the educational domain. As an educator I have found that we have to tear off the blinkers we wear and look beyond educational contexts to see some of the exemplary knowledge sharing practices visible and published in not-for-profit, corporate, civic, support group and fan communities.

OK so I am going to put my money where my mouth is and focus the week 6 task (now in week 7 – a week behind) in those other domains. What about others – can you look beyond our own domain to consider how community might be lived elsewhere?

Lost or left behind in online learning?

Last week I was facing what many of our online learners must face – a guilt trip about not devoting enough time to a course and  being overwhelmed by decisions. Do I try to catch it all up after being inattentive for a few weeks?  Do I try and contact someone, perhaps a buddy, and try to get the abridged version of what has passed me by? If everyone else is keeping up why am I so inadequate? Do I just pick up from here and ignore or let slide what has passed me by? Or do I just give up because I feel too far behind?

I know in the Foundations of Communities of Practice workshop in which I am a leader and coach, we have have been acutely aware of this kind of problem. How do we allow people easy reentry into the hub of the learning when they have been absent (physically or mentally)? This is particularly important when courses like Foundations and the FOC08 and CCK08 have a frequent phase changes that make returning your attentions like picking up a movie plot part way through the screening. We have never really found a satisfactory answer. How do other online programs deal with this?

The very first online learning course I took, in dream interpretation, I was spurred back into action when another member of the course emailed me to ask how I found the second assignment (which I had not done). It struck me then that both the physical gathering of face-to-face classes and the personal bonds keeps us on track. This whole self-managed learner thing is all fat and fine but the online  embodiment leaves us able to drop our priorities and let “real life” impinge. Learning face-to-face I would push back and say “No I cannot attend that meeting as I have a class that night”. But online, where we are snatching the time where and when we can, it is so easy to  procrastinate  – ah manyana!

What did I end up doing? After reflection I went back to the face-to-face equivalent and attended the Elluminate meeting last week. This really re-energised me and I felt that I could pick up the focus from here and carry on.  The synchronous meeting was one act in time that put me and my thinking in the centre of the current learning agenda. So this post is my way of sharing my lost and found path and perhaps normalizing this feeling for others. My advice if you feel as i did would be to join the next synchronous meeting or contact a buddy (I can be one) to find a way back in.

The next posts are my attempt, albeit still lagging by one week, to be back on track with the course learning trajectory.

When do you know it’s a community?

I have been part of CPsquare (http://www.cpsquare.org) for a number of years. It was a gathering of people working in CoPs and envisioned to be a community of practice.  For the first two years or so  I did not have sense of it as a community. We had a hundred plus members but struggled to have clear ties and to be more than a loosely tied group that talked together online. Then after a few years (in early  2006) we had an event to explore Web2.0 tools in CoPs and called for members to help host, promote and manage the event. People really stepped up to take leadership and support roles and a large globally distributed team pulled off what was a very successful month long event. I really had a sense that through these activities (or what lead to them) that we had finally become a community and were able to rely on each other, to make room for each other and to enjoy a successful shared experience. It is difficult to say that whether this event was a cause or a proof of community 9or both) but it was my first real sense that we had evolved into something more than a dialogic space. I sat back after the event and reflected that many people had really worked for the good of of the group and each other, and to me the sense of community was palpable.

For me the two things surface out of my reflection:

  1. the opportunity to step up and step into roles – that this event provided.
  2. the shared sense of the value of being together – that evolved through the activity

To me these are very important components but what’s your experience of how much is community development is linked to the roles and shared experiences we as facilitators/conveners offer? Are events like this an essential part of the community building? Is this what Leigh Blackall is doing with our group in the FOC08 course?

My path to facilitating online

Mary asked on my last post if I was experienced in the face-to-face world before I came into online facilitation. As I started to reply in a comment I thought this was such a juicy topic it might be more fitting as a new post.

For me online facilitation was a matter of discovering myself; discovering within myself skills and an identity waiting to be tapped. I originally trained as a primary (elementary) school teacher and really loved the years I spent doing that. I then moved into curriculum development, distance education, instructional design and teacher training.  So my whole adult life I have been teaching and the last 20 years of that with technology.  More than 80% of this work was face-to-face teaching or leading. I found I admired people in some very early online communities like the amazing BJ Berquist in Tapped In and Christina Preston in MirandaNet. But I had never explicitly considered myself a facilitator or what I did as facilitation until a lucky chance led me to take Nancy White‘s Online Facilitation Course. Somewhere there, in the shadow of the master, a light turned on for me and I felt a new sense of identity and a hunger to learn. I aggressively sought out events and courses wherever I could volunteer to do online facilitation work and start to feel like I had found a niche.

So in answer to Mary – do you have to have been a facilitator F2F before online – in my case I think no. Although I was a teacher I found this new facilitation role freed me from much of what constrained me in teaching. The online environment really opened up new areas, new networks, new freedoms and new realizations about myself. I also found the online communication made being an Aussie in a global learning space no handicap and through putting myslef out there I have been able to engage in global projects and facilitate along side some of the most exciting people in the community field – Nancy White, Etienne Wenger, Cliff Figallo, Beverley Trayner,  Jenny Ambrozek, Sasha Barab etc.

But the learning is ongoing and there is much to keep up with as new tools and strategies become part of the scene. Still the love of learning and being online has in no way lost its lustre and room for discovery about myself  😉

What about for others? Did you come to facilitate online from a similar background/role in F2F?

Taking a course in Facilitating Online Communities

I am taking 2 “courses” this semester online. I wonder is course is the right word for what these new models of learning events really offer. The first event is Facilitating Online Communities led by Leigh Blackall and the second is Connectivism and Connective Knowledge led by George Siemens and Stephen Downes (more about this one later). The courses are a new and interesting model that bring formal accredited programs into the realm and spirit of Web2.0 learning, by offering free a place to anyone who wants to join, with accredited learning for those who pay the fees and complete formal assessment.

This model of learning is very interesting yet holds many dichotomies. It is firstly free and informal while also being formal and accredited. It has the potential to attract a diverse and critical mass of people in a single conversation about online community facilitation. At the outset it offers an group of unknown size  to take part in a 17 week structured program of learning. It seeks to scaffold people’s learning about facilitating online communities by treating an ad hoc and instantly formed group as a community. It has a formal leader in Leigh who has already signaled that he looks to the group to lead conversations and take up distributed leadership activities.

What do I hope to get out of being a learner in this event?  Well I was firstly attracted by the person leading it – Leigh is a great teacher and thought leader. I have researched online community development with IMCoPs, Internet-mediated communities of practice, being my area of expertise but I want to stay fresh in this game. Being in this event will give me an opportunity to expand my research understandings and further my search for community case studies as part of my fledgling Community Capers blog. The whole Web2.0, social networking, connectivism pedagogy leads us to recognize ourselves as constantly learning but it is interesting that we still crave these landmarks of coming together as opposed to individual and amorphous sets of realtionships we each build over time. So while I can read Clay Shirky‘s Here Comes Everybody: The power of organizing without organizations and follow my favorite thought leader blogs, I still find myself wanting to be part of organized events with structure and boundaries, and to be learning from colleagues and fellow practitioners. One of the findings in my research into successful IMCoP development was that the shared understanding of the value of being together was a strong component. In many cases that shared understanding was drawn from a shared experience like this workshop. So for me it is the teacher, the very fulsome 17 week curriculum and the potential of the group and the shared experience that drew me here.  When I finished my doctorate last year I went into a bit of a learning hiatus but I am back now with a vengeance and keen to participate to the fullest. Bring it on!

The Connected Teachers’ Toolkit

I am researching the idea of a discrete set of tools in a Connected Teachers’ Toolkit. What might be essentials in that toolkit to allow teachers to leverage opportunities of social strategies, stay abreast of multiple communities and thought leaders and manage their own professional development (formal and informal)?  After being in the design, development and facilitation team for the Connected Futures Workshop, where we immersed participants in the use of a core set of web 2.0 tools, I got to thinking that teachers could be well served by someone recommending a core set of tools they might explore and use. After all there is a plethora of new technologies, tools, widgets, mods and extensions out there. Where does a teachers starting to dip her toes into this world of new social strategies start? Well here is what I am thinking…

This is a list of tools that teachers are finding of great value to their personal and professional lives. These are much less about formal learning or searching for resources, although they can be, they are more about connecting to people, to thinking and to ideas for your on professional development. You can keep track of groups that you belong to using these tools or you can use them to build your own informal networks. You can use them in isolation but they are much more powerful when you aggregate and integrate them to make your own powerful platform for connecting. Let me know what you would add or change in the core set.

1. Google Calendar Shows events in your time zone and can pull in other events and group calendars into your own calendar. The calendar can be embedded in any pages so that we can keep events in our communities on our individual horizons.

2. Skype Access to chat and voice support. Teachers have access to just-in-time support with each other, mentors, and their communities. Skype can be used for teacher professional development events where voice discussion is required.

3. Wiki (Wikispaces or Mediawiki OR Google docs). For collaborative writing, for instance building knowledge artefacts on a particular learning difficulty, developing new lessons, community writing of a how to case study guide, or customizing units of work for local context.

4. Facebook Teacher groups for Facebook are growing. You can join a group or build your own community of peers and colleagues by adding them to your friends list. You can even keep in touch with a community group long after an event has ended (for instance e/merge2008 starting next week). For teachers this puts you in the centre of a social network that you can use for everyday activity with colleagues, friends and family.

5. Twitter Push out simple little 140 character messages about teaching issues and updates. Let colleagues know what your up to and what issues you are facing or how yo are choosing to unwind. Teachers can sign up to follow key colleagues and friends who send out reminders, updates, links or elicit advice.

6. Blog Journaling or reflecting on your teaching practices can be carried out on a blog. Teachers can take the RSS feeds from others’ blogs to keep abreast of the thinking, ideas etc. You can have a collaborative blog where teachers can be invited to be guest bloggers from time to time. There are a number of blogs like this (see Ted Castronova terra Nova http://terranova.blogs.com/terra_nova/ )

7. Del.ic.ious tags – Like bookmarking but on a globally shared scale. You can create a specific tag to identify resources, literature, sites and discussions that are relevant to a specific aspect of teaching. Follow the trail of tags to locate like minded educators or to build a support network.

8. Netvibes (or iGoogle) to aggregate all the tools and feeds into one interface. This personal aggregator can bring together all of the above tools and their feeds and updates (and others you have subscribed to) in one interface. This can become the homepage of your Web browser.

Professional development IN virtual worlds

I have been working with my next cohorts of teachers in professional development for engaging in the virtual world Quest Atlantis (QA). I have separate classes running for Asia-Pacific, Americas and Europe. It is a brief 4 week workshop held inworld and over skype (for VOIP). Interestingly as QA is a fully moderated and supervised space the audio components of the world, too difficult to moderate/review, have been disabled. So we need to use Skype to be able to talk while engaging in the world.

I have been trying to ensure that our training uses the facilities of the virtual world and engages teachers in world, both in the asynchronous questing work they do for homework and in the real time gatherings we hold each week. We have to discuss aspects of the virtual world at all levels; procedural, conceptual and critical. Sometimes I worry that our inworld use is more “talking head” than I would prefer but the program is so rich and multi-faceted we need to spend time together seeing, using and imagining use of the tools available. I have had experiences myself in Second Life where my avatar sat lifeless in a theater peering at an immobile presenter avatar listening to a 50 minute audio stream, questioning why wasn’t this a podcast? What did I gain by taking on the overheads that logging in to the virtual word involved? I was left wondering if a lecture was a pedagogy we should ever see in virtual world learning. With this heightened sense I have reflected on my own coaching strategies for QA and have been working to more and more use the virtual world attributes and the social context available to shape the activities we engage in.

I would love to collect examples of when this inworld learning totally zings. What are your experiences of really leveraging the affordances of these worlds as professional learning environments?

Imagining into technology use

I am reminded by a recent study, developing use cases for a new online community, where prospective participants were asked how they would use a community space. When I saw the categories of uses it became clear that for many “community space” represented an online forum. They had not envisioned anything beyond that or saw it as largely affective and not part of expediting things in a busy worklife.

I have been working as a leader/facilitator in the Connected Futures Workshop and wondering as a consequence what we as technology stewards can do to help people individually and as a group imagine or envision their use of new technologies? We have been trying to do this in the workshop by giving people hands-n authentic tasks to carry out, by offering them stories of real community use of Web2.0 technology and by trying as best we can in 5 weeks to be as a community ourselves. I am wondering if today it is more about imagining or developing a disposition toward new often labeled Web2.0 strategies and tools? How do we help communities of people imagine their use of and develop dispositions towards their connected future?

When the thesis was done!

Ok, so it’s time almost a year later and way past time to get into and explore many more things, some less academic and some found in the bridge between theory and practice. For me research is only important if it advances the practice. For that reason I have kicked off a new blog-centred experience to share some of the knowledge gleaned in my doctoral research. Community Capers will focus on showcasing successful Internet-mediated communities of practice but will do it in ways that no academic tome could hope for. We will hang out is Second Life with community members, meet them live in Learning Times, hear from members and managers as guest bloggers and hopefully build our own small community around a Facebook group, and over each month together produce a publication as a case study of community.

The first community will open its doors to us for the month of June and then each month we will hold our capers about in new community. Not sure how it will all work out but it is an idea I have held for a long time and I finally have the time and brain space to bring it to life. Wish me luck and come on over and offer support!

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