Powerful serendipity.

After today, I am on a mission to do a better job of keeping record of the amazing learning I have enjoyed these early weeks of summer because I have been paying attention to my network on Twitter.  I  have written about/mentioned Twitter before and shared what I learned from Kathy Sierra last week because of a random streaming url tweet, and the point of this post is not to convince anyone to use it/create an account. Well, maybe just a little. I am just struck today (as I am listening to David Weinberger’s keynote “Learning from the Net’ streaming from EdAccess 2009. His slides are here) by the number and variety of online conferences and presentations I have been able to join over the course of the last very few weeks – and I am amazed when I look at them as a collective.  Sure, the experience is not quite the same as traveling to and being present at a conference, but I can assure you that the learning is no less powerful.  All of the experiences have included a live stream (plus timely availability of an archive) + a backchannel chat – either through Twitter or some other tool.  I knew about only a couple of these in advance; most were shared as urls in tweets inviting folks to tune in.  To give you a sense of the magnitude of what has been available and what I have been able to participate in, here is my reconstructed list since just mid-May:

1.      Course to Dis/Course – ‘This short online conference – May 14 & 15, 2009 – is being organized by Martin Weller, George Siemens, and Grainne Conole.’  Session recordings can be found here.  ( I knew about this one in advance and had registered to participate.  The conference was free).

2.      On May 18th, I tuned in to an EDUCAUSE Solutions in Action Webcast – ‘…a lightning round of speakers about the ways that they are introducing new technologies to faculty and celebrating innovative approaches to teaching and learning.’  The session archive is available from hereThe session was free.

3.      On June 5th, I caught Alec Couros at the University of Delaware’s 2009 Summer Faculty Institute for his keynote, ‘Harnessing the Power of Social Networks in Teaching & Learning’.  A video of the session is available from Alec’s blog, open thinking (along with some other really good stuff from Alec. His blog itself is worth following on a regular basis).  I tuned in to this session because someone there tweeted the url to the live stream. I was amongst the twitter followers Alec mentions in the beginning of his talk.

4.  That same day  someone tweeted a link to a live stream of Jon Mott’s ‘Loosely Coupled Gradebook’ session:  from the Teaching with Technology Idea Exchange (TTIX).  Visit Jon’s blog, The End in Mind, for a link to his presentation slides and Ustream capture – or visit the TTIX space (link above) for an archive of Jon’s presentation and more. I didn’t catch all of Jon’s presentation – I had been listening to Alec and there was time overlap. But, not to worry, Jon sent me the url to the saved presentation on his blog so I could access the whole thing at my convenience.  I have colleagues here who are interested on his topic, so now I can share this opportunity with them – even though they didn’t catch the live session.

5.      On June 11th, I listened to a live stream of Kathy Sierra from the New Media Consortium’s Summer Conference.  (See previous post with notes from this session.)  The video archive from the conference is available here.  Again, I tuned in because someone sent out the call to join in at the live stream url.  I am so glad I did.  I did not know about this in advance. 

6.      On June 12th, I caught Alec again along with Dean Shareski streaming form a conference in Texas.  See Dean’s Ideas and Thoughts blog for more about their keynote and a link to the conference video archive.  Once again, the contact was a result of a tweet…I did not know about this ahead of time.

7.      Then just yesterday, June 22, once again I caught Alec streaming via a tweet (he is a really busy guy living the ‘open’ life!).

8.      Today, as I mentioned, I listened to David Weinberger streamed from EdAccess (See links above to access more information).  The ‘archive’ for this one includes a conference wiki.  Take a look here.

 Are you catching the pattern??  Hints: “tweets of urls to live streams” and “archives” are available.  I believe this pattern is quickly becoming a standard expectation – especially in times of budget exigencies making travel too costly for many.  Again, listening to a streamed session is not the same as being there, but it is no less powerful if one joins in the backchannel and follows up with the archive. Not to mention the connections that result from meeting new folks online and having the opportunity to add them to your network in a more ‘permanent’ way than the traditional exchange of business cards at the standing-room-only cocktail reception.  By linking up in Twitter, etc…folks can re-join around common interests at any time, not whenever they get around to digging through that conference binder and hoping cards and notes weren’t lost….and then there’s the archive.  The archive might just be THE most important affordance, in fact.  Here is built-in ability to share with others – exactly what was seen/heard complete (often) with slides and/or the presenter’s materials. (And some really cool folks like Alec Couros share their materials and invite you to use them yourself if you so choose!).

 Okay, I know…about now you are thinking that I spend my entire work life trolling for streaming links.  Not quite.  Sometimes I turn on conference streams and run them in the background while I multi-task on other stuff.  I do admit that most days I keep TweetDeck running all the time – in the background.  Some days I hardly look at it. Others, I tune in just in time to catch good stuff like streaming urls.  Then on the most special of days I join the conversation for a while. Those are the best experiences where I can gather AND share – in real time.

Take a look at Jim Vanides’ latest blog post ‘Twitter Experiment-The First 18 Days’ and particpate in his survey about how much time educators should spend on Twitter.  Personally, (and based on my experiences like the ones I have written here) participation in Twitter should be a REQUIREMENT of EVERY educator.  This type of network connectedness is not to be missed.  Put it in there with ‘keeping current in the field’ if you prefer the more traditional terms to describe what academics should do. But there really is no substitute for what happens in twitter if the network  is constructed with even minimal care and only intermittent tending.  A more committed participation yields even higher return. 

I can assure you that my own learning has been expanded far beyond what I might have ever imagined just a couple of years ago.  Often that learning is messy, and unexpected but always exciting and giving me new ideas to try out.  And…I have connected with a MUCH broader professional community as well. (Sometime I’ll get around to a post on my own PLN.  For now the focus is what I have recently learned from Twitter). If you are still not convinced (and I don’t know how anyone is not at least curious about Twitter given its role in the unfolding of events in Iran) I invite you to check it out and see what you might learn.  Find someone you know and see who they are following.  Tune in.  Pay attention. See what happens.  And lest you think that the opportunities I have listed are in some way inferior because I did not witness them in person, I invite you to visit the archives links and see for yourself.

Notes on Kathy Sierra @NMC(inMonterey)viaUSTREAMonTwitter+thebackchannel

Wow, has it really been that long since I posted?  I won’t even try to write an excuse. ….

Yesterday I enjoyed another of those amazing serendipitous ‘learning from my Twitter network’ moments when someone (I don’t recall exactly who) posted a link to the live stream of Kathy Sierra’s keynote at the New Media Consortium’s Summer 2009 conference in Monterey.  (MANY thanks to the thoughtful people who make such streams happen). 

 Let me explain this.  I am in South Carolina and place bound at the moment because of deep budget restrictions the result of the current and ongoing economic downturn.  I am NOT able to travel to conferences.  I relish the opportunity to join conferences via live connections whenever possible (I have done so on at least 4 different occasions in the last 10 days alone).  Those who care enough to push out a stream from a conference make participation possible for people like me.  And the added perk of such streams has been that along with the actual keynote presentation there is usually a Twitter backchannel going that includes face-to-face conference participants along with virtual attendees (like me) mixing it up together… about the ideas in the presentations – and (BIG PERK- sharing resources with one another).  Sharing live from literally around the globe (one conference I tuned in to last week included participants from at least 3 different continents).  Yet another benefit is the opportunity to add like-minded folks to my network via the contact in the backchannel.  Do I love my twitter network?  You bet I do.  (See an earlier post).

 But, I digress.  The main point of this post is to share my thinking/notes from Kathy Sierra’s presentation.  I am one of over 13,000 folks following @KathySierra on Twitter.  I know a little about her background.  You can look her up to learn more about her (in fact, I challenge you to do so).  Admittedly her presentation was not specifically tailored for an audience of academics/educators.  However, even though I did not hear the entire presentation (I ran across the streaming link in Twitter after the session started) I found much of what she had to say very meaningful to me and helpful in (re)considering my student/classroom/teaching relations as I approach my fall course planning.

 So here goes (Know that I am paraphrasing here and remixing into how I make meaning of what she said.  I am not claiming to render a verbatim transcription.  If you want to hear her directly, follow links from the NMC Summer 2009 Conference Page to a couple of her past presentations.  Also, I’d suggest you visit @GardnerCampbell’s blog GardnerWrites for his take Kathy Sierra Lives.)

  1.  Focus on what users do not what you do.  Okay, so for me in teaching this is the whole idea of focusing on what students are learning more than (or at least as much as) what I am teaching.  And…this moves us on to the corollary that if I don’t do this there is the unavoidable ‘I taught it, why didn’t they learn it’ quandary.
  2. Give users superpowers quickly.  Hmmm.  How to give students ‘superpowers’?  What does this mean?  Well, I am still chewing on this one, but I think it can mean that it is important to help students feel successful in their learning as early on as possible.  That could take many forms.  It might be early success with grading.  It might be the simple positive comments in response to effort at learning/engaging.
  3. Don’t focus on X, ask what X is a subset of.  Here I am interpreting X to be content.  So, don’t focus on content, but what the course content a part is of.  I teaching nursing courses, so how does nursing fit into the larger healthcare picture?  More specifically, how does the use of technology by nurses fit into the broader arena of health care information technology? Of course that is not all there is to learn about information/technology literacy for nurses, but context-building should certainly be a frame for the details.
  4. Always be practicing/create a culture of practice.  It is important to build in opportunity for mastery experiences (I am a Bandura fan, but that’s another post).  This takes thoughtful consideration and won’t happen if the emphasis is on content coverage.  It means that the teacher is also a learner – alongside students – practicing learning in a shared spirit of inquiry. 
  5. Remember (and I like this one best) that how you make them feel = how they feel about you.  Sierra talked about ‘militantly enforcing’ niceness.  Are people comfortable asking questions? Oh, how I wish I had thought of that when I was a young teacher in the classroom trying to make my mark/prove how much I knew.  I was not a nice person. I was difficult, hard-nosed, haughty, arrogant.  My students had to endure my classes.  I can’t imagine how miserable I made them feel.  I hope I am all better now.  These days I am working on how to make students in my online classes feel closeness with me in their learning endeavors – without face-to-face interactions. 
  6. There are no dumb answers. (We’ve all heard there are no dumb questions).  This shifts the perspective a bit…and points out that it is okay to be wrong sometimes.  That comes along with learning alongside rather than ‘instructing’ from the front of the room.
  7. Make the right thing easy the hard thing difficult.  I think that could be making learning/engaging easier and not learning/engaging more difficult.  That is more of a challenge, especially when dealing with students who lack motivation and who might be satisfied with mediocrity.

 There was more, but remember I am not after giving you a transcription…but my thoughts about some of the points presented.  I appreciate the opportunity afforded through my PLN to reflect upon my own teaching practice once again using a bit different frame….and the opportunity that came along with to join in the conversation about same with colleagues from afar. Thanks Twitter!!  So, back to the start of this post.  If you aren’t tuned in to your community of professionals on Twitter you are missing a golden opportunity to connect.  Give it a try.  See what you’ll learn.