common threads

By robynjay On May 24th, 2012

I’m not sure that I can remember the last time I conversed solidly for 2 days about things that matter. Not work things, life things.
It was a gathering of intelligent minds, varied lives and experiences with common threads: social justice, a desire for change, care for our environment and humanity, equity.

It grew from an increasing awareness that good people were butting heads with systems, values, leaderless bureaucracies, complacency etc. I’ve watched inspired innovators lose their ‘fire’ and burn out. I’ve watched the results of what I call the ‘shit floats’ syndrome: uninspired, conservative thinkers, rising to management ranks recruited by higher level bureaucrats who don’t want their own thinking questioned.

It struck me that we fight this within our own sectors and industries and areas of life but there is little opportunity to move beyond this and to look at the underlying issues, and the common threads that link us regardless of circumstance.

So we gathered, 8 of us, around a table with sustenance, heaters, blankets, and despite not knowing everyone well, a strong unspoken sense of trust and respect. The conversation pretty much flowed freely around areas of concern: the media, education, politics, environment/sustainability, change. The organisers among us brought us back to ground from time to time for refocus and direction, and I attempted to capture the essence of discussions with sketchbook and pens.

Many of us were self-described introverts so the size of the group and the ability to drop in and out was important.

A few of us began the weekend with 2 sessions at the Sydney Writers Festival – one on ‘D.I.Y.’ and one on Resistance -and the ideas raised were remarkably relevant for the weekend as a whole. Day 1 ended with a long walk and a chance to connect 1:1

We didn’t save the world but we did leave with a sense of connection and support that will continue. Michael summed it up well in a post-gathering message:
“The moment I left our little gathering on Sunday I had the feeling that we had just done something amazing. A group of people had spent the best part of 2 days just talking about what concerns us – without time constraints or a goal in mind. An aberration in this speedy world.”

It’s all about engagement: facilitating e-learning

By robynjay On May 3rd, 2012

I’ve enrolled in the new TAE50211 Diploma of Training Design and Development, and once again am busy gathering evidence for RPL. Its a good opportunity to look back over a career and reflect on what I’ve done and the changes I’ve made both in direction and thinking. A key part of RPL, I think, is reflection so I plan to use the blog to do this in a more public way so I can gain further input from readers.

It’s very difficult to tackle something that is your life, an integrated whole, in a segmented way i.e. unit by unit but I’ll see how I go.

I guess my first point of reflection about the unit ‘Facilitate E-learning’ is the unit authors view of what ‘learning’ is. Most of my work over the past 15 years has been in a range of staff development roles, and by this I don’t ONLY mean formalised training.

As educators we learn every day. We learn by reading, we learn by talking and debating, we learn by watching, and we learn through personal critical reflection. All of this can occur online and as a facilitator of learning for educators, my job has been to design spaces and guide processes to make that enjoyable, accessible, challenging and self sustaining. The goals have not changed over time. What HAS changed is the range of online spaces that allow individuals to create and drive their own connections with others.

Having lived and worked online for many years now, my first point of call was the web. If you Google your name what do you find? So, focusing on the online facilitation work I’ve done here’s a list of the most significant:

1. In what must have been the mid 90s I obtained funding to establish a space for the Far Nth Coast adult literacy network. While the site now makes me cringe it was quite ground breaking. Facilitation in those days meant talking to people, gathering ideas/content/needs via email/phone and uploading it. I can remember a lot of discussion about the audience and ongoing review about the effectiveness of the content. We’ve come a long way 🙂 We went on to trial MOOs and MUDs for learning and networking but the platforms were simply too complex for most teachers.

2. From 1998 – 2004 I worked in a few roles on the North Coast supporting the Community Colleges and in particular the ELLN staff and programs. For general management communication and collaboration we used Sharepoint. ITs primary use was sharing of files and conversation around key issues in between regional face to face meetings. I set up and co-facilitated the space. Clunky but reasonably effective.

3. Around this time some virtual meeting rooms started to appear. For the Community Colleges most were over-priced, but one iVocalize proved accessible and was used for a number of years and varied projects. In 2005 I was on the executive of the Australian Council for Adult Literacy and acquired funding for the Literacy Live project. WE used the platform to connect adult literacy practitioners around Australia. It was used for meetings and guest presentations which I facilitated. I was also involved in running awareness raising sessions at conferences and training sessions for State ELLN bodies including QCAL

4. An then into my role as LearnScope manager etc for the then Australian Flexible Learning Framework. While our roles were largely management ones we also provided a range of e-learning awareness sessions and online resource information. Sessions were facilitated in Elluminate and ADobe Connect, a blog was published covering news, events, info and help, and we started a wiki as an information hub. The Framework then used a range of discussion forums and there were some rather interesting challenges faced by the national team around flaming and aggressive posts and how to deal with these.

5. In the past few years I have designed and facilitated a range of blended staff development programs. Typically these included a Moodle hub for content and ongoing asynchronous conversation forums, with face to face workshops and follow up conversation via Moodle and email if required. The material used for these outside Moodle is all freely available online via my Slideshare account and my wiki

6. Most recently I’ve developed the Designing for Flexibility blended workforce development program for Sydney Institute. We have used a mix of F2F, wiki, Facebook group and online Adobe Connect sessions. I facilitated the 2011 trial which has since been reviewed, updated and mapped against TP units, and we’re about to roll it out once again.

Each example has involved an ongoing process of review, evaluation and continuous improvement. In most cases this has involved a mix of informal feedback, team critical reflection, and the use of feedback surveys. In review the focus and emphasis will vary according to audience and purpose but typically will cover:

  • fit for purpose – applicability of content
  • accessibility – level of pitch and suitability of content for the level of skills
  • opportunities for engagement, feedback and ongoing networking and professional connections enabled
  • timing and access
  • suitability and effectiveness of the chosen platform or blend of strategies
  • follow up opportunities

Thankfully as technologies have progressed, and there has been a shift toward spaces that are increasingly easy to access and master, the interactive, collaborative element of learning and connecting online are becoming easier. It remains the case, however, that it is very very easy to teach (as opposed to facilitate) very very badly online. Whatever the platform, maximising engagement and focusing on business and learning needs is the imperative.

[CC FlickR image by Will Lion with acknowledgment also to Tapscott & Williams Wikinomics and Thomas Hawk]


in absentia

By robynjay On January 5th, 2012

I’ve been pondering Harriet’s post If you’re not present, you’re absent over at her Technology Twitter blog.

In the post she describes a period of creative reinvention – a ‘rich and a valuable time, productive and exciting, if challenging and complex’ ; one in which she shut off from her networks for personal reflection.
She says:

The creative process is wonderful – at the end.  In the middle I found it complex and contradictory.  My  online networks felt too public a place to expose such fragile thinking.  Do online spaces in their ephemeral nature provide pressure to present finished thought?  Is it really ok to be fragmented and indecisive?’

Perhaps with the exception of Twitter (which still can be archived and curated), I don’t think online spaces ARE ephemeral. That’s the problem. These are not fleeting remarks; they are there for good. They can expose mistakes, foolishness, naivety and raw emotions.

The public transparent nature of contributing online, which ever media it might be, scares most people. There’s a big difference between scribbling in a journal and posting to a blog. There’s a big difference in confiding semi-formulated ideas with a person you trust, or with yourself, and sharing them with the world or even an extended network. Gauging what to share online, when and with who is in itself a digital literacy skill I think. It will vary from person to person according to the issue, thickness of skin, and personal space needs but I’d certainly respect anyone’s right to withdraw at a time when intense personal reflection and introspection is needed.

Perhaps what we can share is metacognitive. Not the details as such, but an understanding of the strategies and processes. We DO need to encourage wacky creative thoughts, lateral thinking, risk-taking, and change. The final product often fails to illustrate the rich, turbulent and harried nature of the creative process but it is often after the process is complete and a result is evident that the significant moments along the way become evident. We do not, for example, see the working sketches of great artists before the final work is published.

From a personal perspective, whether I’m formulating creative projects or pondering life directions, I do most of it in private. When the change or project is substantial it will become all consuming. Shutting down to enable focused attention is a coping strategy and one to be acknowledged.

Best wishes with your new directions Harriet. I look forward to seeing the outcomes of your deliberations when and if you are ready to share them 🙂

[CC FlickR image by Invisible Lens]

trade winds

By robynjay On January 4th, 2012

[CC FlickR image by nyoin]

Next week we kick of our Career Clarity Camp with Michelle Martin and I’m really looking forward to some dedicated time to reflect and set a fresh path.

In preparation Michelle has asked us to journal some reflections on our current state but before posting on the past year I thought it might be interesting to look back on where I was at 5 + years ago. Towards the end of 2004 I was privileged with an Adult Learners Week NSW Innovation in Learning award. A week before the ceremony our contract positions with the Community Colleges were axed due to Government funding cuts to an already way under-funded sector, so my speech was seriously deliberated over!

Here’s an excerpt…

Its innovation that allows organisations to adapt to the constantly changing conditions.
Without innovation, an organisation stands still while ideas, technology and pedagogy move forward around it.
It’s about knowing how to make new ideas highly infectious;
It’s also about rocking the boat, and stretching the business as usual mentality and it requires passion, persistence and an open mind

However, innovation does not occur in a vacuum – it requires a dynamic healthy environment that is empowering and flexible, that honours new ideas, tolerates risk, identifies and celebrates champions, and encourages fun.
Innovation is a catalyst – but only one ingredient in a process that must be sustainable to be of value.
In education, the lasting value of any innovation is measured by its uptake by teachers and learners.
Teachers really are the key – unless they are given opportunities to critique, reflect, research and learn new skills; to feel encouraged, supported, and positive about their roles and skills, and are shown strong leadership we will not meet the changing needs of our communities.

In a climate of funding cuts it is tempting to slash easy targets such as Professional development and research
However…. It is at these times that we need skilled innovative staff most of all.
Difficult times are a spur to innovation…. It is the time when organisations must think analytically and creatively

I’m passionate about making that happen – about enabling passionate teachers, about designing innovative solutions. What drives me hasn’t changed and I’m glad.

”Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
Mark Twain

tempered radicals: the ins and outs of group blogging

By robynjay On February 6th, 2011

Over (inside the gates) at Facebook friend and colleague Michael Coghlan is battling with how to approach an organisational group blog.

He says (and I hope he forgives me for bringing it to the outside audience but its worthy of sharing)…

I write here (ie Facebook) with gay abandon. I do correct spelling and try and make sure it reads clearly but as to the tone and the opinions being expressed I really don’t care. I shoot from the hip.
I just tried to compose a blog post for a new blog we’re starting at work and within seconds found myself struggling with questions like what the correct tone should be, what kind of impression will this create, will I be harming the reputation of my work team or the wider organisation? Is it OK if I express my own opinions, do these opinions represent those of the work team…..and a whole host of other concerns. I had been quite keen on this idea of starting an elearning blog for our organisation but I’m now not so sure. Having to worry about these kinds of questions is a real downer. It gets in the way of almost every phrase – it this too informal? Is it creating an impression that is too casual? Etc etc. One could get quite neurotic about it. I guess it’s a separate skill – being able to understand the wider context and write in accordance with that brief. But right at this minute it feels quite limiting and I’d rather just write this instead!

Having blogged for my last two organisations I understand how you are Michael is feeling.

From 2006-2007 I blogged with Alex Hayes and guest blogger, Marie Jasinski, for NSW LearnScope. Don’t try to Google it – its all there in safe keeping but as yet not moved to a another public domain.WE agreed up front what the scope would be and we knew each other and our styles and interests. When we first set the blog up it caused a bit of a stir and initially we were threatened with big brother moderation of each post before publication. Thankfully I negotiated around that. It was a good blog. Writing as a group (Marie was paid to post monthly on innovation) meant that a range of styles and topics were covered. That is the benefit I think of a group blog and you should not be afraid to write differently; each style appeals to different readers. Our only limitations were policy related. We ensured that our program and organisations and the Government were not explicitly criticised. But apart from that it was pretty much what came along and we felt strongly about. During that time I did little blogging of my own.

During 2009 and 2010 I contributed to the UNSW TELT blog. The blog was set up for the Technology Enabled Learning and Teaching project; a partnership between the Learning and Teaching unit and the L&T portfolio in IT where I worked. My aim in setting it up was to provide a forum for the project team to communication about all things TELT related. Being in Higher Ed it was a good place to engage in critical debates, or so I thought. On the whole, the most I could get others to post on was meeting notes & updates. Mike Bogle was working in the L&T unit for year one and to avoid him posting twice we installed a plugin (FeedWordpress?) so that posts to his own blog tagged for TELT automatically appeared in both.

So this was a dilemma for me. I wanted to write critiques and engage in debate but I couldn’t do it alone. So I tempered what I wrote and returned to this blog. If you’re going to run a group blog, while it is OK to have unique voices, there does need to be an agreed upon scope of content that everyone contributes to to a certain degree. Had I been ‘a mouth’ while everyone else was posting minutes and notices it would have looked pretty strange.

So back to Michael’s ponderings and based on my experience with group organisational blogs (OR what I would do next time)….

  • Meet and agree upon the purpose of the blog – construct if necessary a list based on this of the types of posts that might appear. It might be good to find out who is interested in what and if you want to write about issues/critiques either make sure there’s more than one person or designate a person for this role.
  • Agree upon the style – if people cannot write comfortably they won’t write at all – formal writing in a blog just looks weird
  • Agree upon boundaries – align to policy requirements, and discuss things like swearing etc – it’s probably what is acceptable in workplace conversations and meetings assuming senior management can hear
  • Discuss the issue of readability – spelling, grammar and length.
  • Agree to act as joint moderators around readability – if there’s a spelling error or a sentence is unclear duck in and fix it
  • Set some targets on how often people will post if relevant – approx a post a week for example. It doesn’t need to be adhered to but can keep people on track. Will you allow keen posters to write daily? While this keeps the blog active it can also start to appear as though the blog belongs to that one person
  • Agree on process if policy/scope boundaries are crossed – my suggestion would be personal contact with the author where concerns are raised – “do you think the last paragraph in X blog should be changed to …” etc
  • Agree to support each other and the blog by posting responses and comments to encourage interactivity – its OK to use personal blogs to do this of course or the comments function
  • Decide who might ALREADY be posting about relevant issues – don’t ask these people to repost but use a feed to duplicate the posts if the guidelines above are met
  • Ensure everyone is cluey about attributions and the use of images etc – varied styles are ok so long as basic requirements are met
  • Set a timeframe for reviewing how things are going

Despite the considerations that ARE needed group blogging can be a great experience and a good way to get people started down a blogging track with a bit of support.

[CC FlickR image shared by hive]

transvic reflections

By robynjay On January 31st, 2011

A few reflections and notes from last week’s Transmedia Victoria event…

So what IS transmedia? It was clear that the form and definition remain quite loose still (which is good).  Here are a few pointers…

  • ‘cool internet based scavenger hunt kinds of things’
  • alternate reality entertainment
  • overlay of entertainment space onto the real world
  • interacts with you via phone, email, browser and the street where you live
  • puts audience in the story
  • brings a story to you
  • story surrounds the audience
  • non-linear : newly found evidence builds on from past
  • about enhancing experiences, not repeating them
  • dynamic/ engaging

Tassos Stevens from Coney spoke of the principles of play:

  • adventure
  • reciprocity and
  • loveliness

It struck me that there is little of any of them in adult education. How do we reinstate the joy of learning and creativity?

Flint Dille said ‘treat me like an interactive object’ (nice – a shame many educators are simply megaphones), and spoke of media franchise (franchise being defined as intellectual property’). The key elements of a franchise:

  • hero
  • home
  • vehicle
  • friends and allies
  • enemies
  • iconic gadgets
  • a unique world

OK am lost a bit here with any possible cross over to education….

Quote: ‘if you want to keep control of your franchise, don’t sell it to anyone’

There was a constant allusion to ‘production’ and ‘rights management’; how do we put the strategy in the hands of learners and teachers? Key concerns were who owns what, in what territories, for how long, what is it worth, is revenue shared?

Quote: ‘It is the ‘inconsistencies’ in a story that makes an audience feel ‘smart”

When asked about the role of a franchise in SIMS Flint responded that SIMS = simulation which is not a game. A simulation aims to recreate something real.

It strikes me that the storytelling/ narrative in a simulation still exists but is placed in the hands/ minds of the participants.

Steve Peters introduced himself as ‘experience designer‘ – nice term for teachers/ learning designers I thought

Steve listed the roles needed for a production to be:

  • writer/s
  • experience designer/s
  • producer/s
  • graphic artists
  • IT/programmers
  • QA testers

Props in a story can include any manner of things including:

  • foreign language
  • digital files
  • old documents
  • artifacts
  • music lyrics
  • sky-writing
  • hidden USB drives
  • maps & GPS
  • live events
  • architectural projections
  • receipts
  • Facebook pages
  • clothing
  • games
  • action figures

The ability to react to audience moves or sticking points requires a lot of tap-dancing Steve said – 20% of the design needs to be left open to respond.

Andra Sheffer spoke of online staying power. Only 3 minutes for adults but over 10 mins for kids. She urged us to design what makes sense not whats cool, that simpler is often better and that the transmedia element should be tagged onto other platforms – ie. that transmedia design must be integrated.

Sound familiar?

She also stressed that ‘there are no more borders – think WORLD’ and that ‘promotion never ends with digital projects’

Clear relevance for education….

Kerrin McNeil from Hoodlum spoke of ‘making stories irresistible’ (read LEARNING here), that ‘life is multi-platform’ (and so should be learning), that ‘audiences are ‘moved’ when content is personalised’ (again relevant for LEARNING) and that we need to remember that audiences (and learners) want to interact in different ways – watch, play, share.

Final thoughts…….

If transmedia has a place in learning and teaching it’s potential will need to be transferred into the hands of ‘normal’ people (in the same way we did with digital stories). Scaffolds are needed to guide the process and support the integration of media. We need to harness the transmedia-like elements of good teaching practice and extend them. Community projects are a good stepping stone/intro but I could not get a sense of anything on the day that was not being ‘produced’ (done for/to audiences). My big take-away …. we need to strengthen the fun/joy, problem solving, choice and multimodal aspects of education.

[CC FlickR image from Powerhouse Museum Collection]

let’s talk

By robynjay On January 10th, 2011

A recent gapingvoid cartoon got me thinking …

the funny thing about using the word ‘conversation’ : it makes people not want to talk to you

‘Professional conversation’ spaces have wormed their way into our work. It seems as if the only legitimate talking that can happen in institutions is that which is owned and controlled by management; boxed into specific times, bounded in scope and wrapped in butchers paper. I wonder when time out and casual informal communication with peers will be not only allowed to exist, but encouraged as a vital aspect of professional work and growth.

It’s a dangerous thing free and open critical reflection,  you never know where it might lead.

[CC FlickR image by lovestruck]

2011 reading list

By robynjay On December 16th, 2010

Alex Hayes asked for a list of what I’m reading. I have to say it has not been a big reading year for me but here’s a couple I can certainly recommend:

Cognitive Surplus – Clay Shirky

The Element – Ken Robinson

I have, however, a rather large pile awaiting my 2011 change of direction.

So here’s my as yet unread bookshelf of non-fiction (somewhat work related) :

The future of ideas – Lawrence Lessig

The wealth of networks – Yochai Benkler

Leadership for the disillusioned – Amanda Sinclair

The new influencers – Paul Gillin

Made to stick – Chip Heath & Dan Heath

What do you do for a living? – Stephen Johnston

What is your dangerous idea? – J Brockman (ed)

What makes us tick? – Hugh Mackay

What’s mine is yours – R Botsman & R Rogers

Multipliers – Liz Wiseman

Drive – Daniel Pink

Socialnomics – Eric Qualman

The power of pull –  J Hagel et al

Digital Habitats – Etienne Wenger et al

The brain that changes itself – Norman Doidge

What I find interesting is the underpinning themes and how they differ to Alex’s list over here.

Same field; different directions

CC FLickR image by lanier67

dream job

By robynjay On November 17th, 2010

Jeff Utecht has an interesting post – Online Community Manager: A New Position in Education – that resonates. It overlaps a little with my now redundant position but better represents what SHOULD have been put in place.

Here are the core roles, adapted a little to represent any educational setting…

1. Community Advocate
As a community advocate, the community managers’ primary role is to represent the school/college/university/project community. This includes listening, which results in monitoring, and being active in understanding what community members are saying on both internal and external websites. Secondly, they engage community members by responding to their requests and needs or just conversations, both in private and in public.

2) Evangelist
In this evangelistic role (it goes both ways) the community manager will promote events, student accomplishments and updates to community members by using traditional marketing tactics and conversational discussions. As proven as a trusted member of the community (tenet 1) the individual has a higher degree of trust and will offer help and support.

3) Savvy Communicator and  Shapes Editor
This tenet, which is both editorial planning and mediation serves the individual well. The community manager should first be very familiar with the tools of communication, from forums, to blogs, to podcasts, to twitter, and then understand the language and jargon that is used in the community. This individual is also responsible for mediating disputes within the community, and will lean on advocates, and embrace detractors –and sometimes removing them completely. Importantly, the role is responsible for the editorial strategy and planning within the community, and will work with many internal stakeholders to identify content, plan, publish, and follow up.

4) Gatherer of Community Input for Future Product and Services
Perhaps the most strategic of all tenets, community managers are responsible for gathering the requirements of the community in a responsible way and presenting it to the leadership team. This may involve formal recommendations from surveys to focus groups, to facilitating the relationships between stakeholders (in an e-learning setting this includes between IT and educators/ students). The opportunity to build stronger relationships through this real-time live focus group are ripe, in many cases, education communities have been waiting for a chance to give feedback.

Jeff outlines a set of responsibilities (school focused) and indicates his willingness to apply for any position that’s established.

Me too – it’s very nice!

CC FlickR image by baratunde

just an aside ….

By robynjay On November 17th, 2010

Dear retail assistants,
I am now officially over your terms of endearment that you feel are an essential aspect of providing me with customer service.
In the last month I have been called:

  • darls
  • darling
  • love
  • lovie
  • sweetie (by a 20 yr old)
  • gorgeous (also by 20 yr old) , and
  • dear

I’m just waiting for sweetie, cupcake, honeybun, sweetpea, sugar plum, princess, precious or perhaps poppet is awaiting me ?

Male assistants are a little more cautious:

  • madam (well it’s an option if the consultancy doesn’t work out)
  • ma’am (am I THAT old?)
  • miss (has been a VERY long time)

or best of all…

  • mate (by a young Indian guy)

The terms are typically used in conjunction with short queries – “chips or fries love ? (read any of the above options) and replace extended phrases such as “would you like ….” or “hi” …. or “excuse me..”

I just hope I can cope and my hormones don’t get the better of me. A  ‘ grumpy old woman’ moment in public won’t be pretty.


CC FlickR image by ginfox