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Facilitation Step Change? Add WhatsApp to Your Large Workshop

 

  • Breakout room 5 (the one on the other side of the building) is out of flip chart paper!
  • Where’s my Key Note Speaker?
  • Anyone seen the group work template for Table 3 (after 2 hours of hard work), it’s not in the stack?
  • The online location for saving the country screencasts has changed to…
  • Impromptu Facilitation Team meeting after the last session today!

The bigger the event, the bigger the venue, the bigger the facilitation team, the more coordination and communication is at the core of success. And the more running around (literally) you have to do as the Facilitator and the Facilitation Team to keep things together and progressing smoothly. That obligatory non-stop flurry of movement was the case, that is, until we all discovered this great workshop application for WhatsApp (or your other favorite smartphone group communication app).

At a recent large event, we had 11 Country Teams, with 11 Country Facilitators,  a number of technical content experts, and a Secretariat support team. I wrote a Facilitator’s Manual that included context, instructions, facilitation agenda, and session-by-session instructions/timing and tips for the Facilitators.We diligently held our essential briefing meeting on the day prior to our 3-day event to go through it.   We had several end-of-day debriefing sessions scheduled in advance. As the Facilitation Team Lead, I had done all I could to ensure that the Facilitation Team ran smoothly during this large event. But we all know, that stuff happens, things change, and there are externalities (Is the Deputy Minister coming?) that keep you perpetually on your feet.

A Few Simple Steps for Set Up

You might already have used WhatsApp at a workshop or large event, so you know how simple it is to set up. For this event we had two WhatsApp groups – one for just the Secretariat to talk amongst each other. The other was a larger group including the Secretariat, Facilitation Team, and the Technical Experts. This was a regional event with people from many countries and, we barely noticed, that everyone in our group had a smart phone, everyone already had the free WhatsApp app installed (quick to do for those who don’t), and the venue -a large hotel in a tropical country over 10,000 km from my office in Switzerland- had great wifi everywhere on the premises.

We put up a flip chart during our Facilitation Briefing Meeting asking for cell phone numbers  (you can also ask for numbers by email in advance). Then we set up a new WhatsApp Group with an obvious name (many people have multiple groups going on simultaneously – so give it an obvious name like “Facilitators/Tech Experts”). Voila – ready to go!

Communication Plus…

The expected use for a messaging app is obvious, to send messages before (“We start in 15 minutes, can you come to the room”) or during ( “Going forward, please make sure to use the podium for your presentations to ensure our colleagues seated at the back can see you better”) the event. And we had lots of this kind of chatter, with ideas contributed by everyone, that was helpful to make the event run smoothly.

So our first uses of WhatsApp were the ones you would expect:

  • 1. Instructions: Give instructions, information and remind people of things (as above).
  • 2. Questions: Provide a way for Facilitators and Experts to ask questions both in the plenary room (“How much longer do we have on this exercise?”), and when they are away with their groups (“Can someone bring me more flip chart paper in Room 5? Quickly!”) Tip:  You need to designate roles for first responders to these kinds of pleas. You don’t want people shouting in the virtual wind, or still having to send a runner back to the Secretariat office for supplies.

But the step change came in some different uses of WhatsApp…

  • 3. Capture and Archive Outputs on the Cloud

We always use some capture tool for group work. This can be a flip chart template, an A3 template, a Job Aid of some kind, a handout. Something that has the guiding questions, instructions and a place for the group to capture the results of its discussion. These artifacts are frequently collected for further analysis and use by the organizers, posted  on the walls so everyone can view them in a structured “Gallery Walk” or viewed individually later, or serve other uses. Sometimes the group needs to keep them (like their Action Plan) but the organizers would like them too. So we simply asked all the Facilitators to take a photo of their group’s completed template after each session and put them on WhatsApp. With phone cameras so high quality today, these photos were perfect for archiving on our thread.

Multiple benefits: The group could keep the physical artifact of its group work with them (or lose it, no problem – the Facilitator has a back up image that they can easily find on WhatsApp); there’s no need to run around the room or rooms and collect them; there’s no need to carry piles of paper back to the office after the event (or to your room at the end of the day); and the host organization and all the facilitators can see what other groups are producing without exhausting plenary report backs.  I also took photos of all the plenary work which was posted on pinboards and flip charts, and anything else that was created and might be useful in session or later on and posted that on WhatsApp. No need to worry about writing being too small for the Facilitators to see in the back. That’s in session, afterwards as the thread is on the cloud, when you get home anyone can refer back to, and use, anything produced.

Tip: You can ask Facilitators to label their photos clearly when they put them on WhatsApp, e.g.  “Country X Group Work Session 3” and some people will do this. But it’s not essential if you  ALWAYS put this information on the template itself. For example, in the header of the page or the top of the flip chart, include the session number and session title and a field to write in the country or group number. This makes for easy recall and archiving.

  • 4. Collecting Images of the Event

In large events, I almost always propose a slideshow in the closing session that features photos of the event – fun photos, working photos, the group photo, team photos, etc. to remind people of their journey and highlights of the event. Sometimes organizers say, “We don’t have the human resources to give someone the role of photographer.” So in the past we have compromised and asked participants to send their photos taken during the workshop to us, to an email address given on the screen in the opening session, or to post them on twitter. Both of these can yield a few photos, but people get busy and forget, leaving you with precious few on the last day. But using WhatsApp and asking the Facilitators to take photos and post them directly on the same thread produced TONS of images to use, and it collected them all in one place (no extra step of having to send them by email to someone and cutting and pasting them out of multiple individual email exchanges or searching a Twitter thread). So the only role to designate was someone to grab the best photos taken by everyone from the shared WhatsApp thread and put them into a PPT slideshow on the final day. People are always happy to snap photos on their phones, and your Facilitators are everywhere. We had a wonderful “competition” to take the closest photos of speakers’ quizzical expressions and highlights of our event in session and outside. Added bonus: This also makes illustrating the Final Report and website easier, all the photos you need are there in one place and on the cloud, so anyone can use them after the event.

  •  5. Matching Expertise and Need in Real Time

In our event, we had our 11 countries working on action planning in parallel, and a number of technical experts on hand to help. We set up Open Space sessions, and thematic sessions, but sometimes a team needed an input right now – please send expert X over to Table 3 or Breakout Room 6 pronto! We used WhatsApp to help the technical experts be efficient – instead of walking from room to room or table to table to see if anyone had questions, or having a table or room rep run to find the Expert, the Facilitators could just post on WhatsApp their need and the expert could come directly to them, saving lots of unnecessary to-ing and fro-ing.

Easier Sharing, No Bursting Suitcases, and the Report Writes Itself!

When you capture everything on WhatsApp  – the outputs of the workshop, the images and high points, the questions people have, the needs articulation for expertise – it puts all this information in the hands of everyone on the WhatsApp list automatically (no need to wait for the report for a reminder), it does this digitally (no need to stuff papers into your suitcase and no worry about losing essential outputs during the event or on your way home), and it organizes it chronologically so the report writing is much easier.

Using WhatsApp at a large event could  herald a step change in facilitation.

It’s a step change for Facilitators in another way too – if you counted on all that running around the plenary room and hotel to make your 10,000 steps a day, you will now need to go to the hotel gym treadmill to meet your step goal. The nice thing is that you will have time to do that now because the communication, coordination, capture and collection side of the event is running itself!

 

(Just a note: If you are interested in learning more about designing and facilitating large group workshops and conferences, the Bright Green Learning Academy has a dedicated course on this: Working with Large Groups: Designing Interactive Large-Scale Workshops/Conferences/Congresses. See our course schedule here. And we’ve written a great deal about large-scale events on this blog!)

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Why Am I Playing (and Loving) Pokemon Go? Confessions of an Adult Learning Practitioner

Released in early July, Pokemon Go – the new location-based, augmented reality game – has been the perfect summer-time companion. It gets people outdoors and moving around day or night. But is it just a walk-around-and-catch-monsters-in-your-backyard game? Maybe I am just rationalizing the hours of playing (that’s me above, Level 20!), but I see some interesting insights for adult learning practitioners.

With Pokemon Go, I observe in myself an interesting blend of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation to learn and play, by design.

Intrinsic motivation -participating because you find it fun or personally rewarding- comes in part because you get outside, often with de-stressing effects – see this interesting article This is Your Brain On Nature. Parks and green spaces in cities have a high concentration “Pokestops”, where you can collect Pokeballs which you need to capture the monsters, and Gyms, where you fight and train.

You can also start a collection that doesn’t have any physical components or manifestation (no stuff or additional storage space needs – again brain calming – Marie Kondo would approve). And these little monsters, graphically interesting and beautifully rendered in the game, are virtually free except for your electricity bill as you need to charge your phone several times a day (and of course data, but it doesn’t take very much to play the game).

Extrinsic motivation (participating for an actual reward or prize) comes in part with the game’s leveling up system – this gives you something to work toward, both for the satisfaction of “progress” (intrinsic motivation), as well as for the label or badge, and also what comes as the reward (a great ball, hyper potion, etc. all useful in the game):

There are some other features too that tap into these things, are just fun or provide useful tools to continue progress in the game, or “bragging rights”, the latter of which cannot be underestimated (I am enjoying playing the game with my sons and seeing who can get the most unusual Pokemon, or level up first). There is definitely a social aspect to the game, believe it or not. I went into a “secret garden” behind the Parliament building in Copehagen at night on a recent work visit and witnessed legions of Pokemon Go players of all ages sitting around in the dark chatting and walking around that ethereal place, known locally to be a perfect hunting ground for rare Pokemon.

It’s not that big a stretch to ask yourself if there are lessons or tips that we learning designers can take from a game that gets learners to take their progress into their own hands and master something for themselves. Building in the motivational aspects, the visual interest, the social learning and the fun – these are not always traditional starting points for learning designers, but perhaps they should be! I think I’ll stop here…

(Note: It has taken me a little while to post this blog post, partially because I have been travelling with work non-stop for weeks, catching Pokemon from Hanoi to Seattle, and also because I was a little embarassed about how much I have been enjoying playing this simple game. For my efforts, I am now at Level 24!)

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Micro-Learning: Delivering a Wealth of Learning in Bite-sized Nuggets

It seems so simple. A deck of post-card sized cards, printed on both sides and connected with a ring.

One side or each card has a question:

The other side has the answer:

The whole exercise takes just 1-2 minutes – to read the question, think about it and have an answer in mind, and then turn the card over to see if you got it right by reading and considering the answer.

Twenty cards, twenty quiz questions and twenty answers, about 20-30 minutes of learning, chunked up in small bites. Learning Nuggets!

I would never recommend actually eating an elephant, but as the old saying goes – How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time… But what does this have to do with learning?

I have worked on many fascinating projects, such as the one for which we produced these learning nuggets, that generate a mountain of learning (an elephant of learning). The learning can be very intentional and structured, using for example a set of KPIs or a donor’s reporting framework to guide it, or more organic, using the partners or project proponent’s learning questions that emerge during the process (or both.)

The learning can be generated through interviews, online reporting systems, annual reports, workshops and meetings (and more). And the outputs can take the form of stories, case studies, spreadsheets, good practice reports, how-to guides, videos, photos (and on and on).

The Micro-Learning Nuggets answered an expressed need – many of the project proponents did not want to read long documents, or wade through a vast jungle of information. So the Learning Nuggets exercise was a way to consolidate and distill out the most important learning and deliver it in an accessible way – a quiz-type exercise where people had to work (a little) for the learning through a few minutes of “effortful retrieval” through applying their own knowledge and experience to the task, and then getting validation or course correction, with some new information.

We have used these cards in workshop exercises in many ways as you can imagine with people learning about industrial development PPDPs; we have shared them with our partners as a way to transfer lessons learned through the project (and they can in turn share them in their institutions); we have also recently launched a Micro-Learning Nuggets Newsletter, which is a curated online format for the Nuggets. Here is a sample of the second Micro-Learning Nuggets Newsletter (Note: You can click on the images below to see them in more detail in a larger format):

Once a month, an Micro-Learning Nugget Newsletter goes out with a topic, and one related question that has a multiple-choice answer that the reader can consider and click the chosen answer and then submit their response. They then get a “Congratulations! D is the correct answer” with some additional information, or “Sorry, incorrect! D is the correct answer” with the right answer which shares the learning. Here is an example of the Learning Nugget as an online quiz question:

The Micro-Learning Nugget Newsletter then offers just a few additional links for learning more if you are “Still curious?” This is great because it let’s us link to selected resources all over the website, thus connecting the learner to existing documents (or specific parts thereof), knowledge products, videos, social media – all curated to the topic of the month’s newsletter, and timed out (very important!) from very short to a little longer.

What I think is most interesting about this method for packaging and sharing learning, is that it is very simple – just one quiz question – but each one is based on the large body of evidence collected through captured experience, interviews, annual learning workshops, reports, Chief Technical Officers and partners experiences, and more. But instead of a drop box full of documents that people rarely use, this transforms and brings back the knowledge in bite-size Micro-Learning Nuggets, be it on a card or in your in-box once a month.

We developed two animated videos that took a similar approach – to boil down parts of the vast learning base into 2-3 minute videos. I wrote a blog post about that process: Condensing Learning Into 4 Minutes or Less? Making a Simple Animated Video for a Complex Project. 

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Condensing Learning into 4 Minutes or Less? Making a Simple Animated Video for a Complex Project

I am enjoying being the Learning Expert for a very innovative programme (Learning and Knowledge Development Facility) that aims to promote, capture and share learning from a series of international public private development projects (PPDPs). The objective is to create a platform and a process for sharing learning among all the project stakeholders and with other interested parties for continuous improvement in the existing projects and to create efficiencies in future project development and implementation.

For this project, among other things, I recently wrote a series of How-To Manuals (see the blog post: How to Write a “How To” Guide: Two Approaches to Creating Reusable Learning) based on individual learning gathered through interviews and collective learning from facilitated workshops and meetings. These detailed documents are all available for practitioners in the project to use as well as anyone else interested.

But, they range from 20 – 30 pages, with some shorter executive summaries that aim to distill further key points. With piles of reading already on their desks, the project managers challenged us to create some new, shorter learning products, not just for them but for their colleagues and others who were interested in the project, who wanted to learn more, but were just starting to dip their toes into it. 

The project is about developing Public Private Development Partnerships (I’m not going to describe them here, you have to watch the video!) It’s quite a nuanced concept. And because of the complexity of writing about and describing the PPDP approach itself (one of my long How-To Guides was about PPDPs – How to Develop and Implement a Vocational Training Public Private Development Partnership – even the name was long!) that was where we decided to start.

So we made an animated video – a 3 minute 23 second explanation of what PPDPs were, how they worked (and of course the benefits!)

All in all, it took us four weeks from the telephone interview that produced the narrative, to receiving the link to the final video. We chose an aggressive time frame as we wanted to show the video at an upcoming meeting. For this project we worked with Simpleshow.

This was my first experience working with a creative team to create an “explainer” video. There were a number of lessons that I learned along the way that I want to capture, for my own future reference, and also for sharing with anyone who is tempted toward the process of condensing and sharing learning in 4 minutes or less.

Lesson 1: What’s the message?

As I mentioned above, the idea started with a 33-page “How-to Manual” which structured a rich multitude of lessons learned by many different actors. How on earth could that be condensed into 4 minutes or less? Four minutes was the upper limit given to us by Simpleshow, with a suggestion that even this could be too long. (Note: There is plenty of interesting research done on video length and viewer attention span – like this article by Powtoon Explainer Video: How Long Should Your Explainer Be? We went plenty over, relatively speaking, what seems to be a generally suggested time limit of 1-2 minutes.)

It was obvious that this amount of content was far too ambitious for a 2-4 minute video. So we needed to think again. When we considered the questions that come in about the project, the first ones and perhaps the most fundamental are really the basics – What is a Public Private Development Partnership? Who is involved, how does it work and what are the benefits? In answering those questions, our message is really basic: This is a very cool approach which you should know about and might want to get involved in. So we started there.  You really need to be crystal clear about the central message you are trying to convey. Too many messages make for a messy animated video.

Lesson 2: What’s the story?

For a video to be good, there needs to be some kind of clean and simple story or narrative with some characters, a challenge that people are trying to solve together, a barrier to surmount. Our story had all of those components. To get to the essence of the story for our video, Simpleshow sent a questionnaire with some very good questions along these lines. We answered it and sent it back and then set up a call with a project manager and a story writer that lasted about an hour. I discussed with them the answers to the questions – What is a PPDP? Who’s involved? What makes it special? What problem is it trying to solve?  And they asked more questions, and I gave more answers. After a while it formed into a simple but compelling story.

Lesson 3: Whose voices? Which characters?

If you watch many explainer-type animated videos, you will notice that there is almost always one voice that is the narrator. This voice introduces the characters, and effectively tells the story for them while they move around and animate the story.  (More on this narrator voice later.) As such there are a lot of decisions around characters and voice in a video. First, you need to identify your characters. Our first list was very long as there are a lot of important actors in PPDPs. But you really can’t have too many characters as it can be hard to keep track of them and in some cases hard to tell (animated) people apart. Remember that they are not distinguished by their voice, as they do not speak – one central voice tells the story, so they need to be differentiated in other ways.

In our case, the main actors involved were actually organizations, as we were describing an approach or a process. So we had to decide which organizations were the most central to our story, and what characters would represent them. We ended up with four main characters with actual names (Peter, etc.), and with some minor characters without names (e.g. teacher, government official, other student).

You do need to be thoughtful about names – selecting those that are not too similar.  For names we tried to use known names from where our characters originated; the most important name choice was our central character, a woman graduate in Zambia. For that I researched the most popular female names in Zambia and decided on Thandi, which is near the top of the charts of popular names for women in Zambia, For next time, I would suggest even more diverse names for the other organizational characters as the project is international. We changed a couple of them from those suggested by Simpleshow, which was perfectly fine with them, but could have changed them a little more to capture the true diversity of the project.

Lesson 4: Getting the story crystal clear

The next step was to write up the narrative – the story as told by the narrator. This was the script and was written from the perspective of a storyteller which was not one of the characters. The script was drafted based on our telephone conversation. Simpleshow wrote out the script. word for word, exactly as the narrator would read it, and sent it for review along with some ideas of visuals (in words) and potential images that could accompany them (characters, icons, etc.) I checked the accuracy of statements, changed terminology, answered some questions, and looked for points of emphasis.

It was important here to remember that some words can be very politically charged, how some characters are described can be consistent with their own terminology or quite incorrect. You need to remember that you are the expert at the topic, the video maker works on a myriad of different themes and although they do their best,  it is your responsibility to catch things at this stage. I shared my comments with colleagues to make sure that I was not missing anything, and indeed I had! At this important script stage we needed to sign off on the narrative as written, because it is not efficient or practical to change the text after the images are drawn.

Lesson 4: Sketch stage – Choosing the right images and icons

I considered what was being suggested in terms of images and iconography and made some tweaks. Sometimes the initially proposed icons might not be quite right to represent the actor – for example, a technical assistance donor will not resonate with an image of a bag of money, but with a growing plant instead.  Other images benefit from changing to increase accuracy or authenticity. For example, I changed an image that was represented on a chalkboard to make it more consistent with the reality of the project (from a flow chart to an engine diagram as the project works with heavy machinery), or changing what one of the characters was wearing to be more like that we see in the vocational training centre workshops in the project.

For this, I used photos from our project, and also googled factories in Zambia, and sent links to the animators, and generally tried to help make the story and images as accurate as possible with the reality of the project. It was at this point also that I received a first sketched of the characters. For Thandi, our Zambian main character, I commented on her dress and hair, and googled lots of Zambian universities and factories for photos to see what students were wearing. Although I have been to Zambia on more than one occasion, I wasn’t in a heavy vehicle vocational training workshop! So I passed this by colleagues who had been working in Zambia, and had been to the vocational school until we all agreed. All the images need to be checked carefully for accuracy and authenticity as again, it is practically impossible to change them (or very costly to do so) once the voice actor is engaged and the animation completed. You definitely don’t want someone watching the video a month after production saying, “That’s not how you pronounce ‘Thandi’ in Zambia”!

Lesson 5: Voice actors – What voice best matches the content?

Speaking of pronunciation…the video narrative will be read by a professional voice actor (I enjoyed googling that fascinating field of work). The company has a pool of voice actors and sent me some audio clips to listen to, and from which to select the one that seemed to fit the content best. I found out from the company we worked with that most animated videos they made were narrated by men, and often with American accents (at the request of clients).

We decided early on that we wanted a women’s voice, so the Simpleshow sent through some female voice clips for me to listen to, with some different accents. It was interesting to hear all the varieties of voices, and their different qualities, intonation, brightness, etc. We decided that we wanted a British female voice. I listened to a few more audio clips and chose one. The voice in the original clip I found a little too bright and chirpy, which didn’t fit as well for our content, so I made some suggestions along those lines. When the actor recorded it she matched our request and instructions.

Lesson 6: Signing off final stages – no going back

At this point I had signed off on the text to be narrated, and I needed to sign off on the images and icons, and what would happen to them which was described in words (wondering, searching, happy, ‘wiped away’). I was asked about how to pronounce ‘Thandi’ ( with “h” or without – I double checked with a Zambian friend to be sure!)  Also how to pronounce ‘UNIDO’ ( spell it out or read it.) It was great that they asked, I am sure the voice actor needed to know. Again this is something you might anticipate and give some instructions before the voice actor does her work.

At this point, the text and images go out of your hands and the company puts together the animation and the voice actor records her text. You can listen to the final results in the video above!

We would ideally have liked another review step or a quote for how much that might cost (it might be significant if the voice actor needs to re-record something to emphasize a word more or less, or a sequence in the middle of the video needs to be re-shot). I understand that is why there are so many opportunities for iteration and sign off steps. It is however still challenging to try to imagine how the voice will work with the images, and how the images will move. There can be unconscious messages communicated when some images stay longer on the screen or have a more central place in the viewing pane. In the future I will try to pay more careful attention and try to anticipate this, and thus give some additional instructions to the artist and voice actor on this aspect if needed.

What might happen next?

The video launch received a very enthusiastic response and good feedback. People are thinking actively about how to use it. The team recently translated it into French  as one of the new PPDPs is in a Francophone country. That took only 2.5 weeks, from request to final French-version of the video, and provided another broad set of possible accents and specialised terminology to select from (with no changes made to the animation except the last ‘thanks’ page).

The video has been put on the webpage and shared widely with partners. It will feature in an upcoming training course on PPDPs in the introduction, and is being sent to potential partners through email and in workshops and meetings. It is such a short and easy introduction to PPDPs, and is much more engaging than any PPT slide set or oral introduction, both of which would take longer than 3 minutes 23 seconds.

Overall, it was a very exciting and fast paced process, and it’s fascinating to see ideas move from a conversation, through written words, to images and then jump off the page into an animated video. And it is not as mysterious as you might imagine. I enjoyed writing down my learning and things I want to remember, not least because I might want to reuse my learning in the next set of animated videos that are already in planning!

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Learning to Use Evernote: Two Examples from a Learning Practitioner

I use Evernote (“Remember Everything”) for many things from tracking my kids’ football schedules to contacts for my favorite conference centres, but the most useful things for my learning and facilitation work include:

1. Keeping track of photos that I take at my workshops, including all the flipchart templates, job aids, handouts, game descriptions. I use these both for reporting purposes, but also so these materials become reusable (thus I don’t have to think again about how to frame this or that activity, or can write over a formatted job aid etc.)

I also have a great set of individual visual facilitation icons in there that I created for myself during a training course I took. Now I can scan that archive to remind myself how to draw those little star people holding trophies. The great thing about Evernote is that you can search text in photos, so I can find things easily again (even more so if I write the client’s name or session key word on the flipchart itself before I photo it).

2. Keeping track of articles that are useful to my work. I had an enormous stack of printed articles that I could not part with sitting on the floor of my office for years. One Saturday I went through them all and either found them on the internet and copied them into Evernote, or took a photo of them (you can also scan them) and put them there.   I recycled my paper stack (which I could not search) and now have both a clean office floor and a great archive of articles (which I can search). Some were from as far back as 1984! Almost everything is on the internet these days – even 2002 editions of Water Resources Impact Newsletter which featured a special issue way back then on Distance Learning and E-Learning in Water Resources Education, interesting from a historical perspective on this fast moving field.

I wrote about this process in a post called What to Do With a Stack of Reading? Create a Personal Knowledge Management System. I could always google, but with my personal archive, I can be sure that every one of the 269 article there is relevant for something I am doing.

On the articles, just a tip, after the first push to input existing hard copy, now it is easier –  I have installed a button on my browser which will let me instantly clip an article and automatically put it into Evernote. Because I can have certain notebooks synced so that I can access them offline, I can do my research on the plane if needed.

So enough about me, I wanted to write this post to point to a set of daily tips that are being written on using Evernote. The first two are linked below, and you can follow the others on Damian’s Blog: .net from Geneva, Switzerland:

Evernote Tip 1 is: You say: “I like Evernote, but I’m not sure I’m using it correctly” – I say “don’t worry, there is no one ‘right way’ “

Evernote Tip 2 is: What is an Evernote Notebook? So what if I have 80 notebooks?

Apparently there will be 31 of these being written daily this month (but timeless). By the way Evernote is free, and for inspiration you can check out the Evernote Trunk for cool examples of how people are using it, like with IdeaPaint which you can use on your wall to turn it into a giant whiteboard, then take photos of your drawings and ideas with your phone and store them in Evernote, which you can then search.

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Why We’re Using Ignites in our Conference Workshop

I’m currently working with a team on a number of 2-hour workshops that will be held at an upcoming international conservation congress in September. For one of the workshops we will feature 6 speakers sharing different approaches to working with their supply chains.

We will be using the Ignite format for their presentations and every presenter I have spoken with so far has been keen to try this, although they realise that the format is a little more challenging for them than the traditional PPT slide set that you control yourself.

I was asked by one presenter to share why we thought this format was a good choice, so I wrote up the following short description and rationale for why Ignites are great for conference presentations:

Ignites started in 2006 in Seattle, Washington, supported by O’Reilly media, and focused in those early days on helping the technology industry speakers “ignite” their audiences with new ideas, but in 5 minutes bursts. With the slogan “enlighten me, but make it quick” it rapidly caught the imagination of other conference and event organizers (both within the tech industry and beyond) as a way to feature many people, and thus many ideas, in a reliably short period of time.

The format of an Ignite is 20 slides auto-timed at 15 seconds each, which is similar to the Pecha Kucha format (which is 20 slides auto-timed at 20 seconds each). Pecha Kucha’s also came out of industry, launched as it was by presenters from the design industry in Japan, earlier in 2003.

These are powerful formats for conference settings as:

  1. They focus the speakers on a strong narrative line and key messages (avoiding going off message and in different directions during their talk);
  2. The format keeps the speaker to time, as the slides are auto-timed in advance meaning they change automatically during the presentation. This also means that all speakers have the same time allocation, and the last speaker doesn’t get squeezed by the time transgressions of the first speakers (we’ve all seen it happen).
  3. It means you can have, with confidence, more speakers and ideas, which allows for greater information exchange, as the talks are guaranteed to be short (after the last slide shows the screen goes black and its obviously over);
  4. It sets up a reliable pace for the audience, so they can relax into the 5-minute segments (even with many speakers) knowing that the presenter will stick to time and the essential points. They also know that if one presentation is bad, then it is only bad for 5 minutes and not for an ideterminable time period. This goes a long way in conferences to enhance audience enjoyment and engagement.

These are just some of the reasons we will be using Ignites in our conference sessions, and why this format is a strong choice for this!

I have written some other blog posts on using both Pecha Kuchas and Ignites, and what makes them good. If you’re interested:
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Badging: The Future of Learning?

Our team (LEAD and Project Wet) just competed as Finalists in the DML Badges for Lifelong Learning Competition which was sponsored by Mozilla Foundation, MacArthur Foundation and HASTAC. And while we ended up unfunded winners this time, we greatly enjoyed the opportunity to create a badging project together that we intend to pursue.

But what is badging? And what gives it potential for enhancing learning in the future?

As a part of the Open Badges Project, an open source infrastructure is being created on the web that will serve as the ecosystem for a wide range of electronic badges that many organisations can issue and display.

Now how much jargon did I just use to try to describe this? Let me try again…

Imagine that you take a course, online or in person, that gives you some skills in systems thinking. At the end of it you have the choice of a certificate in paper, or an electronic badge. You choose the badge. What do you get?

The organisation that ran the course is the “Badge Issuer“, and they have a set of criteria that you have to meet to get the badge. These might be that you 1) showed up, 2) engaged actively in the conversations, and 3) passed a little assessment test or did a project that showed that you understood and could use the new tools and skills (or maybe just that you showed up).

So now you qualify for a badge. The Badge Issuer sends through a message to the Open Badge Infrastructure (OBI) run by Mozilla, and a badge comes back directly to you (the learner) in a “Badge Backpack” which is a personal online space where you can collect your badges. At this point you might only have 1 badge for this systems thinking course in your backpack. But the backpack is there now, and you can take other courses and get other badges that will start to fill up your online backpack.

Now what can you do with your badge? There will be a number of “Badge Displayers” who will let you post your badge on their site. These are sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, your website, WordPress, and job and recruitment sites. As the learner you have complete control over where you post your badges. They don’t show up automatically anywhere, and you can manage them, delete them, or put some here and there.

So what does the badge do? Some badges that you might already be getting on FourSquare or other sites are mainly icons, or pictures of your achievements (like being the first of your Friends to go 4 times in a row to the same coffee shop). The OBI badges would have more data in them, so that when you clicked on the badge you (and anyone who sees them displayed) would find out more about what you had to do to get the badge, who issued the badge, and potentially what your “score” was on the assessment.

This all a part of the “Metadata” that is “baked” into the badge. Metadata means that when you click on the badge you would get a small screen that would give you and anyone who views it this information – it is effectively a gateway to evidence about your learning. There would be a “Criteria URL”  which would give people the criteria that you had to achieve to get awarded that badge. It might be that you just needed to show up (but maybe you flew 10 hours to get there, so that was a real achievement), or that you had to pass a test by 75% to get the badge. All of these things would be the same for anyone who had that badge.

The second URL that would be baked into the badge could be an “Evidence URL” which would be different for each person who got the badge. This would be the evidence that you produced during your learning process – such as the title of your systems thinking project, or your individual grade (you only needed 75% but you got 95%).

All of this would be embedded, or baked, into the icon of the badge. It would also remind you of what you did to get it.  All of this would be a part of the badge that would come flying into your badge backpack. The badge issuer would have built the criteria into the badge before you came into the systems thinking course, and then added your evidence once you were done. Voila you have a badge!

Why badges?

We are learning all the time. We learn on the job, we take additional courses, we learn through mentoring and coaching. There are so many valuable ways that we augment our capacities, many of which go completely undetected by our peers, teachers and employers (current and future). Children learn important life lessons through extra curricular activities, but these do not show up on their grade cards. College students learn about collaboration, project management and negotiation through their courses, but these do not show up on their transcripts (although they might be the most important qualities for a new employer). As adults, we might include on our CVs that we are good managers, or have good people skills, or are are excellent communicators, but potential employers have no effective way to check this and we have often have no opportunity to prove this to them – no real evidence to show.

And these skills, through our badges, can travel with us whereever we go – our personal Backpack will stay with us. And while we might have started it during our school years, we can keep and add to our badges throughout life as an electronic portfolio of achievements that we can keep to ourselves or share.

In the future, employers might seek certain badges for specific positions. A certain mix of badges might qualify you for an internship. You might want to change your career path without going back to university; and launching a concerted effort to work on and achieve a number of badges in relevant competency areas might be what it takes to prove that you are qualified to make that shift.

Badging inspires some heated debate – detractors talk about the comodification of learning, and about the impact of moving from intrinsic and extrinsic motivations for learning. Proponents point to the empowerment factors – that badging allows for self-regulation and more democratic learning and it provides a cost-effective way for people to get an education. All interesting indeed.

This is an experiment, and from the sounds and efforts that the Open Badges community is making around it, one that will get a good run while people tinker around with the concept, build the ecosystem, and start issuing their badges. By this time next year, you might have your first one…

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Mobile Worker’s Checklist: Don’t Forget Your ‘Phone

Today I left my phone at home again and only discovered this 20 min before my flight was boarding for a 3-day work trip to Stockholm. Thankfully I had my iPad and computer, both with Skype; not the same as a telephone but would do in a pinch. However, that doesn’t take away the fact that it will be extremely inconvenient at the conference I am going to, where I will be coordinating and working with a number of colleagues scattered around the venue on a joint workshop. I will feel completely foolish telling them that I forgot my phone – people will look at me incredulously.

Ok, so I’m not happy about this, well actually I am extremely annoyed with myself for walking out without my phone. This is not the first time in recent months that this has happened (at least only the second). So what can I do about this worrying trend (at least two data points into a trend)?

Recently I have joined the ranks of mobile workers everywhere. I took an interesting 18 month, 50% job with a global organization whose HQ is in London. On top of my other travel, weekly or biweekly trips to London now seeing me passing, two feet and two wheels, up to four times a week through Geneva airport.

In spite of the fact that I have lived over half my life without one, I feel amazingly lost and rather lonely without my phone. I’m sure I am the only person over 5 years old on this plane without one. Thankfully, by virtue of my age, I’m wearing a watch and don’t rely on my phone for that ( see Sir Ken Robinson’s interesting TEDtalk – Bring on the Learning Revolution –  about generational shifts in learning and watch wearing). A watch is another essential (for me) in a workshop setting.

Inspired by both Atul Gawande (Better and Checklist Manifesto – how checklists save lives) and David Allen (of GTD fame -checklists are blackbelt moves), I decided to make a Mobile Worker’s Checklist.

Just a word about checklists here, you might be saying, “What? That’s all, that’s the answer? I make lists all the time.”  But do you reuse them? That’s the difference. You need to make a master list, update it until its perfect, and use it every time. Now that kind of  list takes a lot of things off your mind, and avoids foolish mistakes which you are bound to make as a mobile worker. Repetition and familiarity make you very cavalier with travel, but one really can’t afford that. We might not be doctors or pilots, who also rely on checklists, but a mobile facilitator or trainer or co-worker without a phone can cause serious team communication problems too. So here’s my checklist:

Mobile Worker’s Checklist

1. Communication (this has to come first)

  • Phone with charger (USB and wall)
  • Plug adapter (international)
  • USB hub
  • Power bar (to plug in multiple devices when there is only one awkward socket behind the hotel bed)
  • iPad if one day trip with Bluetooth keyboard and charger
  • Laptop if multiple day trip with power and USB key with docs, your whole music repertoire and movies to watch when you’re shattered

2. Travel

  • Keys (home and destination office)
  • Tickets with boarding passes printed
  • Passport
  • Airline cards and insurance card (international)
  • Oyster card (local travel pass)
  • Train pass (home country)
  • Currency and bank cards
  • Loyalty cards for destination Office city (from coffee to hotel)
  • Envelope to keep receipts labeled with trip date

3. If conducting a workshop

4. Clothes and toiletries

  • As needed
  • List of what has been left in destination office (eg sports clothes, toiletries, sweater) so you don’t pack it again (and you will forget if you don’t make this sub-list and keep taking the same stuff back)
  • Vitamins (because you are getting up at 4am and going to bed after midnight)

  5. Documents

  • GTD file (still on paper)
  • Agenda (can’t let go of paper mirror of electronic)
  • Business cards (for both organizations)

An additional benefit of making such a checklist is seeing how many heavy things could be replaced with soft versions on a USB or external hard drive, or even better on the ‘ cloud’. For example, Dropbox can do away with the external hard drive (although you can’t use Dropbox on the flight). Also, I leave my heavy laptop at home and only take my iPad and wireless Mac keyboard when I know I will be in meetings all day and will only need email. The iPad is great for filing on flights and syncs all that work once connected to the internet again.

With a new organization comes a new email account, folders, password etc. (I already had two-personal and company). Three separate gmail accounts is clunky to manage.  Not to mention the fact that people often use whatever email address pops up in their automatic address function, so the messages are often in the wrong accounts in terms of their folders. Add this to online/offline mobile working (planes, trains and automobiles) and you need a new email management system.

So I migrated my email (which was previously kept in outlook on my hard disk) to imap where I can see all three accounts and their folders in one view, and they are kept on the cloud. (I say “I” migrated it, but it was actually tech support from software-writing husband downstairs in office cave.)

For a mobile worker this system is good because your work, files, etc. need to both sync and be available from multiple machines: laptop, iPad, phone (if you remember it) and random dumb terminal.  You don’t want to have to do anything twice, and you want to be able to access all your aliases, being able to send from all accounts and use different electronic signatures.

With this checklist I won’t forget my phone, and everything else I forget will have a place to go – on the checklist…it might take me a few iterations, but hopefully then will be foolproof.

(This is my checklist, what’s on yours?)

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What to Do With the Stack of “Reading”? Creating A Personal Knowledge Management System

Confronting Your Reading Pile

I have been writing about my spring office cleaning exercise, and that has included much frustration about what to do with an enormous stack of great articles in a “Reading” pile. Do you have one of those?

I pawed through it; it is really excellent stuff, titles from David Stroh’s “Leveraging Change: The Power of Systems Thinking in Action” to  “5 Insightful TED Talks on Social Media” from the Mashable blog– all great information that I want, but I just don’t want it right now (and especially don’t want it taking up prime real estate in my tiny office).

Information is a Flow

Of course when I do need it, realistically, the last thing I will do is paw through that stack to find the most appropriate articles. Even putting them in topical files (like in the old days) seems like dooming them to the dark corners of my filing cabinet – and so many of them would have multiple filing locations, so I would have to go through many files anyways. Enough to put me off of that.

There is a limit, and a kind of perverse unintended consequence in this type of system in that the larger the pile grows the more good information that is there, true, but the more time it would take to go through it and therefore lessening the likelihood that I will spend the time to “query” the pile for information. Plus, let’s be super realistic, in the face of that I would probably just Google anyways. Information is now a flow and not a stock.

The Search Revolution

However, Google has its limits too. Some work has been done to filter out good stuff, say, from the 8.7 million results that you get when you put “informal learning” into Google. We are now using our Friends as filters, whether real friends or the mavens  in the topics we care about. To use this new Search system cleverly we just need to  know who knows what and who is doing what. So I follow the leaders, and they throw up good tidbits of information that are useful and interesting, but again too much and often not what I need at the moment when I find it.

So I do need some type of personal knowledge management system that I can query, that is between “I’m Feeling Lucky” of Google, and my former OCD response of printing and carefully “filing” by placing on top of the stack of reading under the table in my office.

Personal Knowledge Management System – Building for Scale

Please do not do the math (as in how long would it have taken me to just read that stack), I just spent some hours (still in the single digits) putting every single still-interesting article in my stack into Evernote (as in “Remember Everything”).

I will admit that this whole process of converting paper to online links took me longer than needed as I first linked the sources through my Delicious account (thinking it would be great to share this good work with others – still a good attitude I think). Only to be informed by my husband, a tech news devotee and generally up on all this stuff, that the talk on the street is that Yahoo (owner) will soon close Delicious. So, I went to Evernote. After I got the hang of it, it was pretty easy to just open the Delicious links in new tabs and copy the content of the article with the URL into Evernote, adding a tag called “Articles”. Although it took time, the system now is built to scale  -as in, it can get as big as needed and is still as useful as it would be if it was a small resource – unlike that pile of papers, which can only get as big as the table top, or the ceiling if I wanted to live like that. It’s useful because it is searchable by content, not just tags (like Delicious) or titles (like in a paper file I would skim).

Filtered Resources On Demand

It is also more useful as the content of the articles will be stored locally in Evernote on my devices (laptop, iPad) as well as on the cloud, so I can read them on the plane (yes, I could also read paper, but I would have to carry that around, and still have to do something with it afterwards to be able to refer to it later – choke up my GTD files, or back to fire hazard under table).

Now I can recycle those papers, and still query them electronically by any word I want through my Evernote interface. And I can add more as interesting things come in from the people who know. This is just one part of a greater Personal Knowledge Management system, as there are lots of other go-to places for knowledge. However, I am feeling good now about managing those articles and other resources that really stand out. And I rest easier knowing that this was an initial set up investment of time, and that upkeep will be faster.

Did you hear that? That was the sound of an enormous pile of reading hitting the recycling bin!

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The Connected Facilitator: What’s in the Online Toolbox?

Full disclosure: I ran a workshop at the  International Association of Facilitators Europe Conference a little while ago on Facilitation and Web-based Tools. It went well, and the participating facilitators were enthusiastic users and happy to share. We did a quick mass collection of what and how people were using different tools – I diligently took down the flipcharts and promised to send out the results.

Well, in an office clean today I found those flipcharts, buried in a stack of papers. Hmmm, to keep my promise, I thought I would share the results. If any of you who attended read this post – I will apologize profusely and sincerely hope that “Better Late Than Never” is actually true. A sheep seemed to be the best picture I could use for this blog post.

So here they are, a list of tools that this group of facilitators reported using (I have checked, added some notes, and updated them where necessary). Some of these are obvious and some a little less so, in any case it is an interesting snapshot of what web-based tools are in a facilitator’s online toolkit:

YouTube

  • Creating and posting video clips to be played in face-to-face events or a WebEx event when participants/speakers cannot attend live, or to save costs or carbon, or just for additional time-restricted content (e.g. you need an on target 5 min clip and not a speaker who will go over by 10 min);
  • Using video clips as an information and learning source for facilitation (“Facilitation” has 2,970 YouTube video clips available today);
  • Uploading videos of you in action for promotion of your facilitation work (and to answer the “What is Faciliation?” question as you would answer it);
  • Uploading videos of your work for funders as a part of evaluation or reporting process;
  • Uploading video for participants of projects and events in addition to or replacement of a written document (as in a final “video report”).

Blogs (e.g. WordPress or Blogger)

  • Sharing written blog updates relating to facilitation work and linking them to your company or institutional website as information about your work;
  • Blogging for knowledge sharing on facilitation;
  • Setting up a new blog to support a particular training or facilitated event (I also like http://www.posterous.com/ for this, as it is very easy to use it in sessions to share group work and keep real time track of products created, mainly because posting is done by email);
  • Creating an internal blog for a group of facilitators- for in-team learning, requests for help and challenging management decisions (sic);
  • As a place to connect to and share web-based facilitation resources (e.g. you could set up a blog to aggregate other blogs and online resources on facilitation, or you could simply connect up to relevant blogs through a dashboard, a reader, or using something like Delicious (one of a number of social bookmarking sites – Note: Delicious is owned by Yahoo and might be closing, so do some research if you want a good social bookmarking site – I personally just switched my Delicious links to Evernote). 

Ning

  • Setting up one to support specific training or facilitated events, for posting updates for a distributed community during an event, and community development more generally before and after a facilitated event;
  • A place to facilitate or join topical discussions related to any theme (there are 65 nings that are tagged with Facilitation);
  • As a support platform for building new organizations or networks (Note: This used to be free, and is now a pay platform).

Wikis

  • Creating an internal wiki in an organization to collect and record learning (such as pbworks);
  • Using other wikis as an information source and for sharing on things like games – such as the gaming wiki  WoWWiki to understand everything from “chat” to “bloodcurse” about how the game works (you might wonder about using World of Warcraft for learning – try a 30-day trial and see what you think – I enjoyed exploring it for examples of negotiation, teamwork, collaboration etc.) (Anyways, another facilitator put this down as being useful for him, so you don’t have to take my word for it 🙂

LinkedIn

  • Useful for promotion and business for facilitators (I have now had a number of requests come through LinkedIn and not email initially);
  • Helping to manage professional links – especially people who work with many different teams and organizations;
  • There are many functions for networking (e.g. slideshare, events, etc.);
  • As a place to tap into ongoing discussions through LinkedIn Groups – today in the Groups Directory there are 219 Groups that deal somehow with Facilitation and 8,280 with Learning. 

Twitter and Twitter-like tools

  • Can be used to generate energy around a project (keep people posted, update on activities, achievements, learning etc.);
  • A place to talk facilitation business with other facilitators (“Follow” other Facilitators – and see who they are following to find others);
  • To identify communities through hashtags (such as #Facilitation, #AppreciativeInquiry and #Learning and anything else you care to find);
  • Useful as a way to gather customer appreciation (what are people tweeting about your facilitation work?)
  • Using Yammer  (a private Twitter-like tool) internally in an organization to keep track of people and their work, ideas, etc.;
  • Using Backnoise in events for more audience participation.

Facebook

  • Maintaining “social” work contacts;
  • Using the Events (+CreateAnEvent) function for announcements and promotion of your facilitation work;
  • Starting a business page for your facilitation work (to inter alia “Invite your friends”, “Tell your fans”, “Post status updates” etc.)

Second Life (This dates us a little)

  • Useful for dialogue and storytelling practice;
  • Keeping in touch with the virtual world technologies;
  • Useful as an alternative to conference calls, to make them more interactive.

Others

  • http://www.doodle.com/ for meeting time planning and invitations (MeetingWizard is another);
  • Basecamp for project management and as a collaborative tool for teams of facilitators or facilitators and their partners;
  • Personal Brain (http://www.thebrain.com/) – Useful to develop self-managed learning applications or even as support for group mind mapping, brainstorming, and more;
  • WebEx and DimDim– video conferencing for facilitation and training;
  • Campaign monitor – for email marketing campaigns;
  • Zoomerang and Surveymonkey – free places to create and run surveys and questionnaires – useful for both demand articulation/needs assessment as well as post-workshop evaluation/feedback.
  • To this list I would add Evernote to keep track of the photos of flipcharts that I take, and I attach any other job aids I produce, I also have an image of all the visual facilitation icones that are standards that I might want to include on a flipchart, this is in addition to all my online links which have become a valuable on-demand resource for me (as mentioned above)

I think this list is interesting as a snapshot of what and how Facilitators are using web-based tools in their facilitation work, as well as a way to acknowledge that we all are using new media today in so many different ways. (Please feel free to add to the above!) I’ll bet you are using something in each category above – before you read through this list did you realise how many online instruments were on your facilitator’s dashboard?

Oh, and next time I hold a workshop at an IAF conference, I won’t wait so long to report back (she said sheepishly).

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More Efficiencies For Techie Facilitators and Trainers: Evernote and Irisnotes

When I am preparing a workshop, in the day(s) before, I go carefully through the Facilitator’s Agenda (which has more process detail than the Participant’s Agenda) and make detailed notes for myself. For each numbered session (without session numbers the workshop blocks are impossible to keep track of), I write down: 1) what needs to be done for preparation; 2) what materials I need, and 3)  an outline of my “script” – what I am saying to the participants to brief, run and debrief each session.

(A “session” for me, is a thematic block, normally an hour or two in length – the time it takes to introduce something, work through it, and come up with an intended output.)

I normally go one step further with this session preparation, and prepare any Job Aids, handouts, or design the flipcharts that I need to make on site to use in each session (for briefing, debriefing, a group work template, whatever.)

I do this because I need to have thought through as much as possible BEFORE I get into the workshop room, because once I am there anything can happen.

When I’m preparing my flipcharts or whatever needs to be done on the spot in the precious moments just prior to the workshop’s start each day, I really cannot be thinking deeply about what I am doing (as strange as that sounds). I can’t be designing things, wordsmithing, or wondering about the best way to phrase a group work question, as I can be interrupted at any moment, repeatedly, by practically anyone for practically anything – calls for directions to the venue, catering staff with questions, lost luggage, changing name tags, taking feedback, new ideas and opinions, greetings and more greetings – and you want to be available for all of these very important pre-meeting tasks.

Of course, I could write up my flipcharts in my home office before I go, I do have my own dangerous flipchart (see: Reframing Falling Flipcharts – hmm, there seems to be a recurring theme here.) But then you might have a last minute change, they might get mangled, you might forget them at home or on the bus. So I usually write up the flipcharts as a draft on cards and then recreate them on site using those as a guide.

This is all well and good, but what happens to those cards? If I keep them, they sit in my files, they get misplaced or out of sequence; rarely do I go digging into my files to find and reuse them. What if I could draw each flipchart model once quickly by hand, use it as a model to prepare the real thing in the room, and at the same time keep it electronically? Wouldn’t that save me time and from recreating the wheel?

I do now take photos with my iPhone of all my “best” or most useful flipcharts after the workshop and save them in Evernote where I can search for and find them again. I have been doing this for about a year now, and have some 500+ notes which are entirely workshop templates, flipcharts, activities, game descriptions, systems diagrams, good results of group work etc. Why I like Evernote is that its text recognition feature lets me go into my Evernote database and search for a word that is embedded in an image (rather than for a tag or a title). I take so many photos after a workshop that I don’t always have time to tag them, and the tags are rather generic anyways, so I can simply search for a word written in the photo of the flipchart and find the image.

I am interested in the possibility now, with my new Irisnotes (a digital pen) (thanks to my friend Lorenzo for this Christmas gift and tutorial!), to actually write up my flipchart “draft” in advance and keep it electronically for use again. I drew the above image with my Irisnotes pen on an A4 paper in 1 minute and when I connected to my PC simply saved it as a jpeg and then uploaded it to this blog, and also saved it on my PC.

This can also be helpful for collaboration. With Irisnotes I can also send the flipchart picture I have just hand drawn as an email. For example, if I was working with Lizzie as my co-facilitator, I could send her all the flipchart drafts in advance for her comments before we get to our venue,without having to type them all up and nicely format them (not one of my strengths).  We could even co-develop them in real time through a process that I used today for another discussion.

This was for a client telephone call focused on agenda development for an upcoming facilitated event. For this call I used Irisnotes while connected to my PC (by a small USB cable), which meant I could see my writing on the screen as I wrote my notes. As I was on a Skype call, I shared my screen  (cool new Skype feature), as we discussed a draft agenda and a set of group exercises (make sure you don’t have other files open or Hello Kitty “wallpaper” that you don’t want shared as well).

While we were talking, I drew examples of the group work matrices that I was proposing for the meeting in real time. I also captured the steps that we would take as we worked through the flipchart template I was proposing. Because he could see me drawing as I spoke, he could easily follow the logic, question it, help me improve it so the final drawing was more or less agreed. At the end of the conversation I immediately emailed him the file. And with Irisnotes, I could either send the file in my handwriting or convert it to text (accurate, if you write in straight lines, but still expect some minutes of work tidying things up. Lined paper to start with would help this.) Because I was drawing matrices I just sent him the file in handwriting as an aide memoire of our discussion, which I then typed up into a more formal proposal later.

Stick all that into Evernote, so I could find the above notes by searching for “Introductions” or “Group work templates” for example, and the next time I wanted an example or exercise for a workshop, I could find my flipcharts already “made”. With the help of some handy technology, I can make my preparation time more efficient, and be prepared for even more of anything.

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Knowledge at a Distance: Skype Video – It Works!

We were very sad a few weeks ago when Joan Davis, one of our speakers, and a Switzerland-based founding member of the Balaton Group, let us know that she was not able to attend. She was to be an important part of our programme, focusing on organic agriculture, and scheduled for Day 3 of our annual Balaton Group Meeting on “Food Futures”.

We are a group that focuses on sustainability, and very sensitive to travel and carbon emissions, so virtual contributions would be acceptable from a philosophical point of view. However, everything we have tried in the past to have virtual participation at our meetings has not really worked for many reasons. We thought we would try again this time, our of sheer necessity – and as I watch Joan on the big screen through skype video, we can see that it really works!

The quality of the connection, video and sound is excellent. We are just using a regular laptop with an integrated video, connected to a PPT projector, and a speaker connection (used for showing videos). The wifi is strong in this meeting room. So this is a good start – the technical support is great. However this is only part of our expectations.  One of our group’s values is that speakers stay with us throughout the meeting. This means that they get to know the group and can connect with our conversations and help us move ahead in our thinking through their inputs and contribute substantively to generative dialogue. Too often speakers parachute in and give their usual talk and leave, especially easy for a web-based part of a programme, giving the feeling of disconnect and potentially taking a group off in another direction. Here are a few things that we did to get this depth of connection with a virtual speaker:

  • Skype connection previously in the meeting week: Joan has been monitoring the presentations and discussion all week, so she is able to make comments on the previous speakers points in her skype presentations.
  • Know the participants: She knows the participant group and can mention names of participants and their relevent backgrounds, and can mention them as people that the group can speak to for further engagement around some of her points.
  • Support the two-way conversation: As you can see in the photo above, the laptop on the desk of our Chair Kevin Noone is facing the group, so Joan can also see us. Conversely, seeing this small image of ourselves in the upper right hand of the screen helps us be aware of the 2-way nature of this conversation. The Chair is also actively moderating, repeating questions if the microphone doesn’t pick them up, etc.

This was an excellent experience for the group, which has strong traditions and values around speakers contributions and social interaction during their events. However, in a time when travel restrictions (whether self-imposed or infrastructure/nature-imposed) and other things like health and finances increasingly keeping people home, this doesn’t need to impede good quality knowledge exchange and dialogue that creates new ideas, new meaning and new initiatives. We believed this in theory, and now know this from experience.

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Where Learning Practitioners Go to Learn: Online Educa

One of the most useful conferences I go to each year is Online Educa, held annually in Berlin in November/December. It’s a gathering of several thousand people from all over the world who work, live and breathe technology-supported learning.

It follows a rather traditional format of plenary and parallel break-out sessions on a wide variety of topics. And at the same time, there is much tolerance for the truly weird and wonderful in terms of stories, cases and experiments in learning. Not only do they get top speakers to present in plenary – I have written in the past about big ideas presented there by George Siemens on Connectivism, for example, and Professor Sugata Mitra of the Hole in the Wall experiments in India – conceptually they are also really pushing the envelope when it comes to knowledge and new media. I remember first hearing about knowledge management in stock and flow terms here in 2006, and most recently of the future in cloud computing. I wrote a post this year with all the collected new ideas (for me) called Ahead of the Curve; I always have ample new ideas when I come away from one of these conferences.

This community is continually testing new techniques – here is where I used Twitter so successfully for social learning (see my post on the Two-Day Total Twitter Immersion), where I met Jay Cross first and learned about his paradigm-shifting work in informal learning, and met some of his colleagues from Internet Time (see my post on Follow the Leaders). It’s where I experienced a Pecha Kucha, and saw a Panel using a backchannel (Backnoise.com) to “talk” to the audience. And where Jane Hart who runs the online Centre for Learning and Performance Technologies speaks, where university programmes talk about how they are using virtual worlds and mobile technology for learning. It is always an exciting two days.

I just received a “Call for Papers” message from the team that runs Online Educa asking me to post it on my blog, and in this particular case, I agreed – here you go! If you have an innovative learning process, or something to share, this is the place to go to interact with a trending learning community:


OEB 2010 Call for Papers Open Now

Online Educa Berlin, the largest global e-learning conference for the corporate, education and public service sectors, has opened its Call for Papers. Deadline for receipt of all proposals is 14 May 2010. The 16th edition of Online Educa Berlin will take place from 1-3 December 2010 at the Hotel InterContinental Berlin.

Under the banner of Learning for All, this year’s conference looks for contributions relating to the four core themes: Learning Content, Learning About Learning, Learning Ecosystems and Learning Environments. Each of these themes should be explored within the context of either Institutional Learning, Workplace Learning or Lifelong Learning, or any combination of these three.

Online Educa Berlin is the key networking event for the international e-learning and technology-supported learning and training industry, bringing together more than 2000 learning professionals and newcomers from around the world.

For more information: www.online-educa.com/programme

Maybe I’ll see you there!

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Paper Free and Fast: Using Posterous for Workshops

I am at a workshop of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Commission on Education and Communication (CEC) in the Scottish Highlands (beautiful, yet not the best place to be when an Icelandic Volcano erupts.) CEC is one of IUCN’s 6 expert Commissions, which are global knowledge networks of individual practitioners that contribute to the organization’s conservation and sustainability work.

CEC aims to innovate; it is the learning and education-focused network within the IUCN system. New tools, social media, innovative learning has always been an area of exploration for the CEC. For example, in September 2007, it held a workshop on New Learning for the Arab Region at the Library of Alexandria in Egpyt where we looked at all kinds of social media and technologies. CEC makes an effort to test and model new tools and technologies in its work.

This meeting has been no exception, thanks to Posterous (self proclaimed as the “dead simple place to post everything”). We have been experimenting using Posterous as workshop support and it has been working brilliantly, making us virtually paper free, helping with simultaneous reporting, and providing practically instant feedback on group work and planning. Here’s how we have been using it:

Set-up

  1. We opened the free Posterous account prior to the event and restricted the membership to the participants, closing inputs and accessibility to those attending.
  2. We sent out an initial email to participants with the URL and information on how to use that, so they had it prior to (if they had time) and upon arrival, and asked them to bring their laptops to the meeting.
  3. We arranged for wifi in our room and helped everyone get on, then we demonstrated Posterous on the first day and had everyone make their first post (posting is done through email message. e.g. post@iucncecmeeting.posterous.com.)
  4. Then we were off!

In-Session Use

  1. No More USB Keys – Presentation Support: There was an updating/reporting session of the beginning of the agenda where people reported on what they had been doing. We asked people to send their PPT to Posterous first (not before they arrived, just before they presented.) We had Posterous open on our screen in the front of the room, and people could either show their PPT through Posterous, or not and simply refer to it, so that people could look at it later. So no multitude of USB keys, no swapping computers, and no asking after the fact for people’s slides sets or sending them around by email (or worse, printing them and handing them out).
  2. Instant Stars – Real time photos/videos: At ramdom points during the meeting, someone with an I-Phone (me in this case), took short videos asking people for opinions about the meeting, or talking about their inputs, as well as photos, and immediately sent them to Posterous as an attachment to an email for people to see and hear as the meeting progressed. They uploaded in a minute to Posterous and were embedded within the blog space, complete with title and tags.
  3. Nothing Lost – Group work immediately captured in different formats: No longer do people need to take flipchart paper home to type up group reports (or lose), nor stay up at night to do it. We had people in small groups type results directly into Email as they were being produced and at the end of their group work, post them to Posterous. We also had people photo their flipcharts and send the photo. You could even use your phone to video one of your group members talking through the flipchart and post that to Posterous. All this happens simultaneously. We also did our workplanning like this and it is the first time I have left a meeting where all the workplans are done and on the web, accessable to all, and forming some kind of “officialness” that helps tracking and generates commitment. (And can be tagged to organize)
  4. Meeting Done, Reporting Done (Collectively): If everyone is posting things as they are being created – including discussion products, workplans, photos, videos, and attachments, interesting URLs – when you walk out at the end of the meeting, the reporting is effectively done. There is perhaps a short tie-it-together synthesis, but all the documentation produced is already there.

We are just about to end our meeting, and no paper has been circulated, no flurry of USB key swaps, or promises to send around this or that. It’s done, organized neatly on the simple Posterous interface, and we all have access to all the inputs, products and materials, to get on with once we return home. And we all contributed to it, through the simple means of email.

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The End of Boring: Borrowing, Adapting, Mashing for Facilitators

I had a design conversation this morning for a one-day workshop that featured 10-15 participants each individually presenting project ideas, one after another. How do you make that interesting (after the third one)? Why not a pecha kucha or an Ignite (the tag line is “Enlighten us but make it quick”)?

Both are presentation techniques with origins in the design and IT world which give presenters 20 slides on autochange at 15 seconds (ignite) or 20 seconds (pecha kucha), for presentations that total no more than 5 or 6 minutes. Both are now global phenomena, yet far from being household words. Pecha Kucha has a good website with samples, and here’s one using Pecha Kucha for sustainability. Some good videos of Ignite presentations are on the Ignite Oreilly site, with more on Igniteshow).

These techniques shifts the whole emphasis refreshingly onto the story and the images and makes it much more fun and creative. One website said, “This is not your father’s PowerPoint presentation.” It all might sound intimidating, but even bad ones are really good (or at least funny and only last 5 or 6 minutes anyways.)

So there are new ways to do presentations, there is also new software for that. Lizzie wrote recently in our blog about Prezi, and what about Keynote that I recently heard enthused over by a super smart 11-year old attending a workshop with his mother (a reaction to the slideset no doubt). In fact, there are 40 listed in wikipedia under presentation programme from AdobePersuasion to VisualBee. It probably has never crossed your mind to try anything but PowerPoint, but if you only have 6 minutes to present something or if you want to get people’s attention in a long series of presentations (or just a long day), it might be worth trying a new format.

Or what about a completely new format for the workshop itself (or at least Day 2)? We have written about using Open Space Technology in the past (see our post Open Space for Conversation and Eating Croissants) and how that technique helps to organize and support learning. There are a range of Unconference techniques that are being used (many again conceived in the IT sector, and often focused on sparking innovation and creativity enhancements). I heard at last year’s Online Educa about the FooCamps and BarCamps that started 5 years ago and promoted as “user generated conferences”. Again the content is brought by participants, and schedules are generated by those with ideas to share and develop with others. A typical FooCamp schedule board looks like this (lots of intriguing titles – I like the scribbled out session called “Howtoons” – I would have gone to that one.)

Again, the objective is to provide those people who seem to have at the top of their Job Description: “Go to Meetings”, with a new and refreshing frame. A 2006 article about this was explicitly headlined: Why “Unconferences” are Fun Conferences: Unconferences – meetings organized on the Web or on the fly – are becoming the no-b.s. alternative to industry gabfests. The mention of “organizing on the Web or on the fly” comes from the fact that many pride themselves in being organized in less than a week, and are “evangelised” or promoted using mainly web tools. Some recent social applications include CrisisCamps held to promote relief efforts for the Haiti Earthquake. They are also short, with one day or half day formats, and a panoply of parallel, one hour sessions. (And perhaps also a driver for the creation of Ignite or Pecha Kucha type presentation formats).

All this is still a lot of talking. What about having a whole session where no one talks at all? Maybe something like a Dotmocracy session could be a calming and still productive way to spend an hour after lunch. I have seen this done for evaluations, but not as it is described here as a way to gather inputs on a specific idea. If you look at the template, it is obvious how you can use this for brainstorming, and you don’t even need those sticky dots that can be a pain to cut anyways. This looks like something that could also work with very large groups, similar to the Camps and Pecha Kuchas described above.

Maybe I am oversensitive to boring. And yet, there are productivity gains to be made from spicing things up, speeding them up, tapping into enthusiasm and creativity, and cross-sector learning from the IT sector – not just from their methods, but also from their eternal willingness to borrow, adapt and mash things up. And for Facilitators, boring is not what we want to pop into people’s minds when they think of our work (I was going to say “is the kiss of death” but that sounded rather unappreciative). At least there is no shortage of intriguing pathways to explore, these are just a few, if we want to help try to bring an end to boring.

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Is YouTube Making Training Obsolete?

I was not too sure about this until I watched a YouTube video that helped me do something I had never done before (make a video with my computer’s integrated webcam to post on my blog), now I think YouTube is going to give technical training, at least, a run for its money…I might have actually taken a training course on this…

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Ahead of the Curve: This Year’s Learning Trends at Online Educa

I just spent the last two days at Online Educa, one of the largest global conferences for technology-supported learning and training, held annually in Berlin. It is my third time attending and every time I return full of new ideas and a glimpse at the future learning trends through the eyes of some of the top thinkers, academics and techno-geeks. This year was no different.

Each year there is some tool or topic that is capturing the excitement and imagination of the 2000+ participants. When I first attended in 2006 it was blogs and wikis, with many people enthusing about their experiences with these young tools. At that time we had just started this blog, so were eager to hear how people were experimenting with theirs for learning. Informal learning was also a topic with Jay Cross’ original book on this published.

In 2007, the buzz was around real learning applications in virtual worlds, like Second Life (SL), which most people had discarded as playgrounds for slackers. Many formal and informal learning experts were exploring and exploiting their potential for all kinds of learning. Podcasting was also a hot topic, and mobile learning was a beginning topic of conversation then, but was being drowned out by SL avatars and a much bigger conversation about the quality and quantity of user-generated content. (I’ll never forget plenary speaker Andrew Keen -author of The Cult of the Amateur: How Today’s Internet is Killing Our Culture- who was boo-ed for proclaiming to the audience of thousands of otherwise very polite internet enthusiasts that wikipedia and the internet was being written by monkeys, or something to that extent.)

Trending this year were a few things: Tools like Twitter were not only mentioned in practically every session, but also was being actively used to extend the learning beyond the seminar rooms throughout the conference. All kinds of video application was also a trend, from having school kids use the video clips they took with their phone for show and tell, to the question of whether YouTube and its mega supply of how-to, just-in-time learning content might ever replace formal training. Mobile learning was also very big this year, with everyone doing it on their I-phones (or other, although I saw lots of them) as well as discussing the future of learning as being “hand held”. This was linked to an ongoing discussion about the coming of cloud computing, having everything in the “cloud” with ubiquitous access, where any user can access any content, anytime with their phone, PDA or even a TV. One plenary speaker heralded the end of “bulky” laptops, while holding up one of the smallest I’ve seen.

I myself found it fascinating that I only turned on my own PC once the whole two days (and that was for a skype call to Sweden). Not that I was taking notes and talking instead, no, I was on my phone the whole time. I used it to Twitter the conference, used it to give feedback in sessions on Backnoise.com, to ask questions of other participants, to meet and interact with many people, and more. Instead of sitting down to write my blog posts, I micro-blogged the whole time (I would have never found the hour it takes me to write a proper blog post during that fast-paced conference.) And in doing got some experiential learning in “going mobile”, learning alot about this new handheld future, from many who do it so expertly.

In fact, my last Tweet from the Conference was: “#oeb2009 Difference @ OEB for me this yr: Didn’t use my laptop at all- all interaction with mobile & found it great- Next yr no pc 4 me!”

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What’s New for HeatSeekers? Using Twitter in Meetings

If you look up “Heatseeker” in Wikipedia, you get redirected immediately to “Missile Guidance”, and a long explanation of how these kinds of missiles work to find their targets. However, the top link of this entry is another redirection to Billboard weekly album chart’s Top Heatseekers which refers to a selected list of new and emerging artists who have never been on the top 100 albums list. In fact, once an album hits the top 100 chart, they are off the Top Heatseekers list. The label of heatseeker is strictly reserved for great new stuff.

I was interested at David Allen’s GTD Summit a few weeks ago to hear the label of “Heatseeker” used over and over again. It was used to refer to speakers and participants, like Guy Kawasaki or Taco Oosterkamp, who are out there looking for the newest technologies, gadgets and productivity enhancements (usually these people are in the technology space, but this is probably not a necessity.) One of the participants beside me in a panel session was using the newest Kindle, and delighted in showing me how it worked, what he liked about it and what he was looking forward to in the next version. Everyone had their iPhone and were talking about new applications for it and wishes. David Allen was given a Mac after Guy Kawasaki hassled him about not having one, clearly for the Heatseekers a Mac with all the bells and whistles is essential.

One thing I noticed about this meeting that I have not noticed before, was that everyone seemingly was using Twitter. In fact, it was the first time I had seen a plenary session where, in addition to the two central screens, there were two lateral screens that were scrolling the Twitter Tweets as people posted them. It turned out that there were dozens of people in the room who, throughout the speeches and discussion, were micro-blogging their 140 character Tweets, including questions (that other Twitter users were answering), quotes, additional information and connections to what other speakers had said (especially when they contradicted each other). Nothing got past the people Twittering. And the interesting thing was that people outside the room were following people inside the room, so not only were we benefitting from the Tweets, but who knows how many people not attending the conference were following those Twittering inside the meeting rooms. Apparently David Allen has over 75,000 people “following him”, which he said was either the cause of celebration or great paranoia.

I had heard of Twitter a few years ago just after it started. We had a demonstration during our New Learning Meeting in Alexandria, Egypt in 2007, where at the time the primary new and interesting Heatseeker thing was using Second Life for learning. I started my own Twitter account in the meantime but had not discovered its potential yet for learning. In addition to using it to host multiple conversations during what otherwise would be a monologue of a plenary session, they had some other applications for Twitter. For example, the Heatseekers said that it definitely could be useful for learning how to waste time (that was their first response.) However, they also said that it gave people up-to-the-minute news flashes (remember the people who tweeted about their plane crashing before any other media was on the spot.)

And of course trend spotters and Heatseekers use it to find the heat, so no wonder they like it. There are definitely different levels of Heatseekers, we have a few in our institution, although I don’t know of anyone yet who is Twittering as a part of their work (or even for recreational purposes for that matter). We haven’t had a meeting yet that mentioned real-time bullet-point reporting via Twitter. Our team has introduced reporting via a cartoonist, graphic facilitation and blogging. Maybe Tweeting is next. When you only have 140 characters to make your point, you need to make sure you are on target – maybe that missile guidance system analogy works after all…

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Having F.U.N.* with Vance Stevens


Vance Stevens, of the Petroleum Institute (Abu Dhabi) and founder of Webheads in 1998, gave a two hour Un-Workshop this morning at our Arab Region New Learning for Sustainable Development Workshop that he titled F.U.N. * Fair: Computer Mediated Communications Tools for Distributed Social Learning Networks. This was a face-to-face un-workshop, a veritable souk of activity, connectivity and interaction both in our training room at the Library of Alexandria, where we are now in Egypt, and with his online colleagues from Barcelona, the West Coast of the US, and so on, who joined us in Second Life, on skype and on worldbridges.net.

The Un-workshop had an open door policy, people were popping in and out. Laptops and terminals all on different pages, the clattering of keypads, exploring and trying out the URLs that Vance was introducing to us, talking us through, answering ten questions simultaneously. There were plenty of technical challenges, and at the same time lots of patient people who were excited by the possibilities, mystified by Second Life (one Egyptian participant said it should be called “Second Wife” instead), and eagerly starting their journey in the technology-mediated environment. It was great to have Vance as a guide. What you can learn from seeing it, trying it, and being able to query it in real time is so valuable, plus his enthusiasm is catching. You could tell that we weren’t the only ones having F.U.N.*

* Frivilous Unanticipated Nonsense

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Getting Some Help in Letting Go: Online Communities, Nings and Del.icio.us

This title might sound like the start of a self-help entry, and in some ways it is. We have written a few blog posts in the past about seeing information as flow (rather than a stock). These posts included How is Information Like Electricity or Water? and Knowledge Has Changed: 6 Big Ideas from George Siemens. And we have even tried to experiment with this notion in our own lives, for example in our office, which we wrote about in the blog post No Trees Were Harmed Setting Up This Office. However, when you come right down to it, people just want to keep things, bits of information, papers, books. No doubt there is some deep psychological reason for this (did my family move around alot when I was a child?) or maybe I just don’t have enough time to read all these things in the first place (so I imagine that I will have more time later?)

I have been active recently on a new community social networking tool called a ning. One in particular is devoted to informal learning, run by Jay Cross, called the Internet Time Community. On that site, the community of 90 members (this number has tripled, it was only 30 last week) discusses community building, blogging, PLEs (personal learning environments), and more, all at the same time. Here is where I found something that helped me take another step in letting go of paper. I shared with this community my urge to print things (I had just started a physical folder of interesting articles on web 2.0 and somehow it seemed very anachronistic) and asked them for some advice.

Several members of the community answered this question. Here is what Jay Cross (author of Informal Learning) said: “Try using Del.icio.us or Magnolia. When you see something you like, click and you have a breadcrumb back to that item. You can tag it for retrieval by any terms you want. And you can even see who else has tagged the same thing. “

So I just spent the last hour setting myself up on Del.icio.us and I must say, it’s satisfying to go back through those many emails I sent myself with URLs to useful sites and documents. I was able to annotate them, and tag them for future reference. I won’t lose them and I won’t print them. And it feels good knowing that they are there – just like those community members in the ning; they helped me take one more small step towards letting go…

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Crossing the Digital Divide: A Story from Egypt

We hear a lot about the digital divide between northern and southern countries, but we know deep down that the real digital divide lays somewhere in that fuzzy expanse between 18 and 40 years of age. Somewhere between those who were born digital and who are discovering digital.

In the last few days in Egypt we learned more about this. Yesterday we heard a great story from Ahmed, a teenage undergraduate student at the School of Engineering in the University of Alexandria. Ahmed and some of his friends had recently engaged one of their professors in a little experiment.

In a course on the combustion engine, the students had finally had enough of their professor lecturing them on how the engine works. He did this by drawing the parts on a white board and explaining how the various parts worked to them. Drawing took a long time, was nowhere near to scale and, most problematically, did not move. The professor simply drew arrows to indicate how the engine worked or acted it out himself (no doubt with high amusement factor).

Ahmed asked his professor one day if he could have his notes and try to represent the lecture in a different way. After initial resistance, the professor handed over the notes. With the help of one of his friends, Ahmed learned Flash and animated the whole lecture. The professor was delighted as it saved him time, was accurate, and the other students loved it. Ahmed also put it online for sharing with professors, and students in other classes and engineering schools (still patiently working with engines drawn on whiteboards) could benefit from it too.

Being on the “wrong” (forty plus) side of the digital divide can be a humbling experience. At the same time, it does serve the nobler purpose of leveling the playing field and opening it up for more intergenerational co-learning opportunities which present a win/win for both professor and student. Having converted the lecture of the professor into animation, Ahmed himself gained a much better understanding of the workings of the combustion engine. Having accepted the possibility that his learners (students) may have something to teach him, the professor has also learned how new technologies can enhance his work.

If this heralds a paradigm shift, what will our universities look like in the future – will we all be learning together?

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What is My Personal Knowledge Management System?

After some Skype chat earlier in the week, it was great to hear the voice of Harold Jarche this evening. The Skype call service wasn’t up to scratch – clipping one in every few of Harold’s words – but no worries. Within minutes Harold had guided me through setting up a Google Talk account and ‘hey presto!’ – now we’re talking (or should I say Unworkshop-ing).

What did I learn? That the first question I need to address is: What is my personal knowledge management system (PKM)?

There is a wealth of interesting stuff out there and a wealth of great information sharing, knowledge generation and learning taking place. Yet, we are often faced with information overload and an overwhelming diversity of channels. How do we sort and filter that to which we give our time and attention? And how do we move from “this is interesting stuff” to “I think that…”?

“Learning – The Link Between Knowledge and Change” is the tag-line Gillian and I will be using in a communication piece within our organization about the work the Learning Team will be doing in the coming years. At the organizational level, we are look at how we need to manage knowledge in ways that facilitate the learning necessary to bring about change. At the personal level, how are we doing this?

I don’t expect to figure out my personal knowledge management system overnight, but I will start thinking about it. And then I’ll start thinking about how I can improve it, and how the use of software such as bloglines, del.icio.us and others can help – at least with the web-based component.

Thankfully Harold’s already shared some great, evolving ideas about his PKM system on his blog, and others have shared their ideas through comments too. It’s a good place to start.

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Scattering Learning Seeds: The Pod and the Magic Bean Stalk

Everyday I commute for two hours, traveling an hour to and from work with chunks of the journey by foot, tram, train and bike. For the past three years, this has been a time for thinking, reading and chatting with other commuter colleagues – on both professional and personal matters. The time has always been a much appreciated ‘wind up’ to and ‘wind down’ from the hours in the office. A recent addition to my commuter repertoire has made it even more enjoyable! – Podcasts.

Podcasts. The word itself tickles my imagination – hence the title of this blog post. Little did I expect, however, to find them so engaging. An audio file, downloaded from the internet to your computer, from where you can listen to it or transfer it to your iPod for use wherever you go – in my case whilst commuting. I had never thought of myself as an audio-learner. I realize now I’d just never found audio-learning resources so suited to my interests and lifestyle.

My first three Podcasts came from the members section of MindTools.com and comprised some really stimulating expert interviews with the authors of books on leadership and learning. Much like a great radio show, these presented manageable amounts of info in a way that really came to life – so much so that I felt more-or-less party to a live conversation. Of course there’s no substitute for reading the book in its entirety, for in-depth learning; however with the Podcasts the seeds have been successfully scattered and sown. I’m sure I will follow up on the ideas presented there and who knows where these new bits of information take me. If a magic beanstalk results – all the better!

For me at least, listening to Podcasts is a pleasure. Now I just need to learn a little more about how and where I can find even more quality content providers that match my interests so well. Recommendations please…

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Very Informal Learning: From Portland to Geneva in Four Minutes

Even skype chat offers learning conversation opportunities. This is what you can type in a chat window in four minutes between Portland and Geneva…

[10:33:55 PM] Andy says: How can one work situation with all the money and talent be such a torture chamber and another situation with a few fairly tolerable people turn out to be such a great job and incredibly productive?

Gillian says: Because work is all about relationships and when they are good, work is generally higher quality, and when they are bad the same positive correlation is often true.

Gillian says: And I think we have a lot more control over our work environment than we think. There is a nice little book about the Seattle Fish Market called “Fish” which is all about making great workplace environments. You should check it out; you can read it in about 2 hours.

Andy says: I’d throw trust in there somewhere. This latest gig has really let me make my own mistakes and fix them. It’s kept me interested the entire time. There has been no second guessing and back stabbing that just kills any and all ambition.

Gillian says: Yes, and I think that trust is fundamental to a good relationship.

Andy says: Yeah, my boss really has done that well. The gal I work with could make soooo much money somewhere else, but he leaves her (and me) alone to get the work done.

Gillian says: And she would rather have a good working environment with a little less money than a bad working environment with loads of money – good for your boss.

Andy says: Yeah, my boss doesn’t have any money so a good work environment is all he has to offer. You know how non-profits work.

[10:37:09 PM] Gillian says: Yep, I work in a non-profit.

New Technology: It’s Not Just for Christmas

I just received a new video I-pod for my birthday as I am very interested in seeing how podcasting can be useful to my work (not to mention getting the latest episode of Lost each week).

However, the worrying thing is that I have not yet set it up properly and the papers are sitting all over my desk. What does that say about my commitment to using this new piece of technology in the long run?

I heard Dr. Palitha Edirisingha from the University of Leicester speak about the process to move students there into using podcasting in their studies – he called the process “Domesticating a technology” and he talked about 4 steps:

Appropriation: Taking the technology from the shop to home (or ordering it through Amazon)

Objectification: Creating a space in your home for the technology (in the lounge, or on your desk)

Incorporation: Finding a place for the technology in the routine of your life (remembering to charge your phone every day)

Conversion: Displaying ownership and competence in a public culture (like being evangelistic about keeping your blog up to date)

So I need to think about this – if I don’t want this i-Pod to become a paperweight, I need to get through to the incorporation stage. When I start writing blog posts about podcasting you will know that I have succeeded!

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When did I first know I needed an iPod?

How many of you have an iPod? Asks Kevin Wheeler, Global Learning Resources Inc. Many hands in the room go up. When did you first know you needed one?

I do have an iPod. My husband bought his iPod home a couple of years ago. He (we) started buying tracks from iTunes instead of albums on CD, and I suddenly found that where he goes, our favourite music goes. What about me and my music? I’d dabbled in the world of Ipod and, like any good marketer, he’d sold me on customized playlists, podcasts and pocket-sized. A few months later, I knew I now needed my own iPod.

Kevin’s point? Executive buy-in to the use of technology-enhanced learning for professional development is all a question of marketing. How do we help our executives know they, and their organization, need technology enhanced learning? Is it really as simple as enticing them to have a quick dabble with technologies they never knew they needed? Perhaps we should be providing our CEO with a choice of links to our end of year report: podcast or a wiki?

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Knowledge Has Changed: 6 Big Ideas from George Siemens

In his plenary presentation this morning at the Educa Online Conference, George Siemens argued that knowledge has changed, here are some of his reasons (read more in his conference paper):

1. We create knowledge together
Today knowledge and knowledge products are created together, we are no longer passive consumers of knowledge created for us. BBC is starting YourNews which is inviting viewers to write their own news and share their own images on the BBC website, blurring the line between knowledge consumer and product. Zefrank’s website on cultural entertainment features a weekly show titled Fabuloso Friday which the viewers who watch the episode write the script in a wiki.

2. The distributed “we”
We collect our knowledge in our friends rather than having to keep it all in our own heads (see last blog post).

3. Complexification
Some educators take a messy information space and simplify it for learning. This is not always a very accurate depiction of reality, but people seem to favour simplicity over accuracy. Now with blogs, we can complexify things again to get closer to accuracy. In order to act we need to simplify again to a series of choices; however now we can do both the complexification for understanding and the simplification for actions ourselves, rather than having to rely on a media reporter or a journalist to do it for us.

4. Recombination and Tools
We now have an “internet of things” whereby any aspect of physical space can be exposed to the internet. The internet probably knows what colour shirt we are wearing because it had an electronic RFID tag from the shipping to the point of sales. We are also seeing the “Thumb generation” which will eventually focus on mobile devices rather than PCs for knowledge transfer and connection.

5. Fluid product to process
George Siemens likened a book to a process that has been stopped. It is frozen knowledge, and shows a state of the debate where the conversation has been stopped. He felt that this does not work well when the underlying knowledge is rapidly changing. We need instead to keep the knowledge at the process stage, rather than the product stage, so that we can continue conversations in the knowledge space. (He has just published his new book in a wiki format.) Even courses are products that freeze knowledge, we need to make our learning environments more process oriented.

6. Fostered transformation
We should not adapt too quickly or be overreactive, and make changes that bind us to one space or technology. We should continue to experiment and continue our spirit of transformation and stay in line with the nature of change.

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Are We Sinking or Thinking? Learning at the Workplace Re-Invented Online

Well, it turns out that many institutions have figured this one out – using blogs for reflective practice. A quick google showed that many environments that are education and learning-based are using them.

I found an interesting upcoming conference titled Online Educa Berlin 2006 http://www.online-educa.com/ with a parallel stream titled, “Social Technologies in Educational Practice”. Some of the presentations were:

*Blogs as Reflective Practice (Dicole Oy, Finland)
*Wikis and Blogs: Teaching English to the ‘Net Generation’ (University of Padua, Italy)
*Everything 2.0: What Do New and Emerging Social Technlogies Offer Learning and Teaching? (King’s College London, UK)
*Learning by Storytelling in Weblogs (Newlearning, University of Erlangen-Nurnberg, Germany)

Apparently there are many organizations who are exploring how they can use blogs and other new technologies to help people learn.

Another presentation in a different stream was titled, “Are we Sinking or Thinking? Language Learning at the Workplace Re-Invented Live Online” – I adapted it as the title of this blog entry (I think perhaps it could be more appreciative!)

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Blogging as Reflective Practice?

Many people say that they do not have time for reflection in the workplace. Meetings after meetings with two minutes in-between, emails interrupted by visitors in turn interrupted by telephone calls. Forgetting to have lunch?

Reflection however is what helps people process the various inputs that they are receiving. It helps them develop their own opinions; link new ideas to their own experiences to either validate them or question them; and consider possible actions (proactive or reactive.)

Building in reflective practice however takes commitment, perseverence and motivation. You have to make the time and you need to see positive results in order to have the incentive to keep it up. Learning and change can be that incentive, the possibility of dialogue can also be an incentive.

I am interested in how blogging can be used for reflective practice in the workplace – how it can be used to capture the progress that people make when they are thinking through issues and ideas. And how it can be used to start discussions, both within an institution and outside. Discussions that might not happen otherwise due to lack of time and attention.

How can we get our organization to promote blogging by staff members to help them reflect on the work they are doing and develop conversations around the things they are noticing, and the questions they have? It could help people understand more about the work staff members are doing and the processes that they are undergoing themselves as they develop their own capacities in many areas. It would help people get to know each other.

Are there any non-governmental organizations that actively promote blogging for this kind of purpose? Imagine an organization where every individual or team kept a blog. One that captured for themselves, their team and others some of the things they notice every day, funny things, celebrations, learning points, frustrations even. I can imagine myself checking one of my colleagues blogs thinking, “I wonder what’s going on in the DG’s office today?”