Archive for June, 2014

How the Conference Backchannel Adds Value

I’m fairly new to using Twitter for professional development having been actively experimenting with it since March 2014.  One of the ways that Twitter is used is for real-time conversation during a conference, known as the ‘backchannel’.  In My #ASTD2014 Backchannel Experience on 7 May I wrote about my experience of being a backchannel only conference participant.  Since that time I’ve participated in two more backchannels – the Australian Institute of Training & Development (AITD) conference (14-15 May) where I also physically attended the whole conference, and EduTech Brisbane (3-5 June) where I attended half a day of the two day event. Of the three events, I was most active in the AITD conference.  I used Twitter to take notes by tweeting (or retweeting) key points at the sessions I attended.  Following the conference I then used Storify to review tweets with the conference hashtag, and create a summary and reflection on my conference experience which I published as My #AITD2014 Experience.  Using the backchannel in this way turned it into a sense-making activity.  Watching and, in some cases responding to, what others were sharing in the backchannel extended and enriched my conference experience further by:

  • making me aware of what others found important in the session content
  • providing relevant examples
  • providing me with links to additional resources
  • introducing other points of view on topics being discussed
  • helping me to network with other participants
  • giving me the occasional laugh (good ingredient for learning)

I was speaking in a panel at EduTech on the afternoon of Day One and looked at the backchannel as I travelled in the morning to see if I could pick up on any themes or information that might connect to my topic.  I noticed immediately how active the backchannel was – I had heard that educators were high Twitter users.  Then I saw that there were 4000 attendees, so even if only 5% of attendees were tweeting across the 10 concurrent ‘congresses’ (separate conference streams) it was going to be a busy backchannel (I’ve since seen a claim that there were over 10,000 tweets at the 2 day conference). I struggled to unravel tweets from the different streams and make sense of what was going on (a plea to organisers of large conferences – stream or session-specific hashtags please!). What was helpful in the EduTECH backchannel (as well as visually attractive) was the summary of the first keynote session tweeted by @art_cathyhunt.  Cathy’s sketch note summaries were so useful that they were shared in Twitter over 10,000 times and she’s published them as a collection.

EduTech Summary 1 Value Adding Backchannel Behaviours

Cathy’s sketch notes got me thinking about the different ways in which people add value in the backchannel. Here is a list of some value-adding backchannel behaviours, with examples.

Reporting1Reporting – Tweeting key points made by presenters, sometimes with photos of slides.  Context helps those participating in back channel only to make sense of the points.  It’s useful to see the topic and presenter tweeted when a session is commencing, and when session has ended, and also a tweet when the presenter moves from one topic to another.

Tweet3

Applying – Tweeting examples of personal application of an approach, technique or tool that the presenter is discussing, with a short reflection on the good, bad and lessons learned.

Extending3

Extending4

 

Extending – Sharing links to additional resources and relevant internet sites.

Pondering1

Reflecting / Pondering – Asking ‘what if’ or ‘how could I’ type questions to prompt consideration of how the session content could be applied.

Connecting1Connecting – Creating links between, for example, different conference sessions or linking the session to the conference theme.

Tweet4Questioning – Posing questions to the backchannel.  Sometimes these are hypothetical.  What I enjoy more is those that generate tweeted responses & discussion.

Summary3 Summary1Summarising – Summarising key themes and overall content of a session and sharing either shortly after a session (as per Cathy Hunt’s EduTECH examples) or in a blog within a few days of the session.

Curation1Collating / Curating – Publishing links to a set of conference and backchannel resources.  Here’s a great example from ASTD2014 curated by David Kelly.

 

I was going to include Challenging / Provoking in this list – Thinking critically about session content and challenging the information or ideas in order to present counter-views or a different perspective.  However, I couldn’t find a backchannel tweet representative of this behaviour.  It’s not something I’ve seen done often; perhaps we’re too polite…..

Physical versus Backchannel Conference Participation

Kent Brooks lists 10 Reasons to Tweet at a Conference, all of which ring true for me and are great reasons why I will continue to play in the backchannel when I attend conferences.

Joining via the backchannel only is not a substitute for physically being at a conference, fully immersed in the sessions, discussions and interactions.  I have found following a backchannel in real time a fragmented, slightly disconnected, and sometimes chaotic experience.  However, summaries and curated collections posted at the end of sessions, full days, or whole conferences provide a filtered presentation of themes and resources.  In effect someone else has started the sense-making process for me, making it easier for me to access the best of the conference.  It’s also a great way of interacting with those in my PLN who are attending, and finding more interesting people to follow.  And it’s certainly better than not being able to join in conferences that I am interested in but not able to attend.

See you in the backchannel…..

 

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Observation as a Key Sense-Making Skill

I’m currently completing Harold Jarche’s 40 Days to Personal Knowledge Mastery (PKM) program.  The program uses Harold’s Seek-Sense-Share PKM framework.  I’ve always been intrigued by the ‘Sense’ step – it’s struck me as a black art, the space between gathering information and sharing it as some form of mature, processed product where “magic happens”.

I’ve just completed an activity in Observation based on looking closely at my Twitter feed for the previous week in order to find patterns between people or connect seemingly separate ideas together. I was frustrated early in the activity and felt like giving in.  I persevered and concentrated, while seeking to keep an open mind.  And then, somehow, by sticking with this as a purposeful exercise, magic did indeed happen. If you’re curious about how I completed this exercise in observation and what I noticed take a look at this Storify post.

This experience demonstrated to me the value of slowing down and making time to really observe, explore, and think critically rather than just dipping in and out of a stream of information quickly and lightly.  Great exercise Harold – thank you!

 

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MOOCs – An L&D Practitioner’s Experience

In 2013 I participated in a Learning Cafe working group on MOOCs for Workplace Learning with colleagues from other corporate organisations.  The group concluded that:

Learning-Cafe-Call-on-MOOCs2-276x135MOOCs (Massively Open Online Courses) can be a mainstream employee learning option.  It offers cost effective solutions for organisations with the benefits far outweighing the challenges.  L&D/HR need to be proactive in exploring and including MOOCs in learning strategies.

I was invited to be a panellist at EduTECH 2014 alongside two fellow working group members. Jeevan Joshi (Learning Cafe founder) summarised the Working Group’s activities and findings, while Tim Drinkall from NBNCo and myself each spoke about our own experiences exploring MOOCs.  I presented two perspectives: (1) MOOCs for my own professional development; and (2) MOOCs as an employee learning option in my organisation (where I focus on technical capability development for Supply Chain roles).  The views presented in this blog post are entirely my own and do not represent those of either Learning Cafe or my employer.

In summary my experience suggests that:

  • MOOCs are a valid option that L&D professionals should include in their professional development portfolio; and
  • MOOCs will only be a valid mainstream option for technical capability development when (if?) courses are developed on relevant subjects, and where the organisation supports the learners to apply the content in their workplace and learn from the experience.

MOOCs for L&D Professional Development

I have enrolled in three MOOCs for my own professional development (PD), and completed one.  Personal motivation was the key to my MOOC completion, driven primarily by relevance to my immediate needs.

In most instances MOOCs are a self-directed learning experience, for which barriers to entry are very low (no entry criteria, no/low fees).  I did not know any other participants, few people were aware that I had enrolled, and there were no adverse consequences for non-completion.  This was a low-risk PD experiment.  My completion of these MOOCs was dependent on intrinsic motivation.  While all three subjects were of interest to me, only the course that I completed addressed specific skills that I had an immediate need to apply.  While I skimmed the content in the other two courses and initially made an attempt to join the overwhelmingly large and relatively chaotic online discussions, the subjects weren’t a high enough priority for me to allocate time to these MOOCs.  Having said this, I did get value from being able to skim the content and look more closely at anything that caught my eye.

SMOOCThe MOOC that I completed was Social Media for Active Learning from Florida State University (FSU).  It ran for four weeks with topics on curation, social media lessons, Personal Learning Networks (PLNs) and privacy & ethics (the latter an important and often overlooked aspect of this subject area).  Each topic could be completed independently.  Weekly content was presented via three short videos, a one hour webinar (recorded for those who not attend live), and linked readings and tools. To earn a topic badge required posting in response to three discussion topics (self-selected from a longer list), completing and posting a project, passing an online quiz, and providing feedback on the topic.  (As a slight aside, I was surprised that I enjoyed earning the topic badges, and suspect that I may not have completed the final topic were it not for the desire to complete the badge set – this has shifted my view on using badges in my work.)

SMOOC Badges

The content and activities were relevant, practical and well-presented.  I particularly liked the use of separate discussion threads for each question which made it easy to follow a conversation without interference from other discussion threads.  With the exception of the recorded webinars all content ran well on my iPad, so it was convenient to work on the MOOC during my daily public transport commute.  There was a lot of feedback provided by the FSU students who formed the course support team.  Some discussion did occur on Twitter and my PLN expanded slightly.  I really enjoyed the social interaction in this MOOC and looking at the project work completed by others.  Most pleasing of all was that I was able to use some of the project outputs in my workplace, and immediately apply the knowledge and skills I picked up during the course.

I now regard MOOCs as a useful additional option for my ongoing PD, particularly where I have an immediate opportunity to apply the content.

External MOOCs for Organisational Technical Capability Development

I joined the Learning Cafe working group as I was attracted to the idea of “free” courses from reputable institutions that could be incorporated into the suite of learning options in my organisation.  My organisational learners work predominantly in manufacturing, maintenance, warehousing, distribution, supply planning and scheduling. Over the past year I have searched several times for MOOCs relevant to the technical knowledge and skills of these learners.  Alas, there are very few on offer.  Even if there were relevant MOOCs available there is no such thing as a free lunch.  Effort needs to be put into finding and evaluating a MOOC just as it does any other type of formal learning.  (Note that I am deliberately discussing formal learning options at this point).  Some learners may require support to effectively engage and learn in a MOOC environment, especially where it is true to the pedagogy of interaction on a massive scale.

70201

Looking at learning through the lens of the 70:20:10 framework (which is used successfully in my organisation), generally a MOOC has the potential to address theory (10%) and the social (20%) aspects of learning.  However, for technical skills the experiential learning (70%) requires hands on application of skills in real world context.  Some highly motivated and adept self-directed learners will be able to generate the application and reflection required to create experiential learning from a MOOC; many will require support to achieve this.  That support may come from an internal group of peer learners undertaking the same MOOC, an interested leader, or an L&D practitioner.

Another option is to blend a MOOC in full or part into a learning program.  This is one of the opportunities that Donald Clark sees for use of MOOCs by corporates. In a similar vein, the content of many MOOCs is open source, hence provides another source for curation of material for use in formal and informal learning.  This is the extent to which I have used MOOCs within my organisation at the time of writing.

These are some of the activities into which L&D effort may need to be invested in order to effectively utilise MOOCs for mainstream learning.  Refer to moocsatwork.com for a framework that identifies other considerations for the introduction of external MOOCs into employee learning.

MOOCs as a Model for Internal Program Design

For many L&D practitioners who have worked within the constraints of ‘traditional’ course design and the limitations of their LMS, enrolling in a well-designed MOOC will expose them to a broader range of learning methods (e.g. online discussions, use of current resources curated from the internet) and provide examples of how to use these methods well (e.g. discussion thread structure in Social Media for Active Learning MOOC) as well as what not to do (e.g. a lecturer presenting to a camera for an entire series of videos).  This is one aspect hotly debated in Ryan Tracey’s post on the pedagogy of MOOCs.

I also think there is something in Tanya Lau’s point in response to David Kelly’s post on MOOCs and the Corporate World:

Perhaps in a corporate setting, MOOCs could play this role – … something which can also help people to build their internal network (…and break silos!?) across the organisation.

I am lookbanner-mocm-registrationing forward to exploring MOOCs further on the upcoming MOOC about Corporate MOOCs, which commences on 16 June 2014.

 

 

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