Posts Tagged 'Social learning'

Building a Better Twitter Chat

Twitter chats allow people who want to learn more about a topic to get together and learn things from each other. Before you start diving into holding a chat… there are a few things you need to consider.

  1. Ask yourself is there enough to talk about? Consider the topic you wish to build the chat around. Is it broad and deep enough to generate a sustained discussion about? How many areas about this topic can you develop questions around?  I started my chat around the subject of Knitting (and fiber-related crafts). To the non-knitter it may seem that this is not a robust and broad topic, but just check out the activity in a social network site of over 1 million knitters called Ravelry, and you’ll understand that chatter about knitting can seem infinite.
  2. Never underestimate the power of previous connections on Twitter. Build a modest following first. If you’re just going to plan a chat and expect people to come, they won’t. Try to start posting relevant information on the topics you are interested in. Don’t over do it though, also make sure you sound human in  your post and not stiff and from a marketing department. Here’s a nice primer on how to plan out your use of Twitter.
  3. Expect that the first few sessions might have a limited following or number of participants. Unless you have a large and avid following already, the first few sessions may include only a handful of people who are actually chatting. This is okay. Provided that your topics generate enough interest, and you spend some time promoting the chat both in Twitter and other venues, you will be able to gradually achieve a larger base of participants.
  4. Training for participation is key. Try to define what the chat will looking like to your audience. I know the first time I heard of Twitter chats I was indeed mystified as to how they worked. I created a short post explaining the basics of the chat format to my audience to help explain how to participate.
  5. Great conversation facilitation is dependent on the quality of the prompts & questions crafted by the facilitator or other members of the chat’s community.  Coming up with questions that keep a conversation going can be a challenge. In the first two chat’s I’ve set up I loosely followed the format of the “#lrnchat” discussion. Introductions first then a set of 4-5 discussion related questions. Questions should be somewhat open ended and not have “Yes” or “No” responses only. A whole separate post or even series of blog posts could be devoted to “how to draft fabulously dynamic discussion questions.”
  6. Expect “lurkers” not “talkers” at first.  Not everyone feels comfortable diving into a conversation. They may have to observe and before the feel safe enough. They may also be struggling (as I did with the pasting the hashtag into every post).  It was not easy to do this in Twitter the first time I tried engaging in a chat a few months ago, that or I’d not figured out the tools yet.
  7. Don’t expect to “hog” the facilitator’s role.  Generate ideas for topics from the participants in the community that you’ve tapped. They after all, are the lifeblood of the conversation. Also, after hosting for several sessions, think about letting others who are interested host or facilitate the chat.

These are just some initial thoughts to consider before starting your own chat.  I’ll try to document the steps I took to getting my chat started in a future post.

You can build your chat stronger and better

Lessons learned from my Twitter activity in the past few months

I’m sure some sage individual in the past has noticed that humans are most excellent at making order out of chaos as well as vice versa.  For most people who first encounter Twitter, when they hear that it’s just about people barking statements in less than 140 characters about the goings on in their lives, they immediately decide that the tool amounts to nothing but horsefeathers and mindless chatter.  A little over two years ago I too was skeptical about using Twitter. Now I have a great appreciation of what a powerful tool it is for connecting with people who are interested in the same things you are. More than that it’s a great way to learn from others and find people in your field to learn from.

While others may lament the 140 character limit, I believe that the limit forces you to ‘prune your words’ or carefully think out what you will share.  The medium itself is, after all, only designed for short bursts of conversation. If you want a longer discussion that’s  less constricted go find a forum on the same subject.  The great thing about Twitter is it’s a large body of information sharing, but you can still make relative sense of it by using the search or accessing what YOU want to hear or learn about by using the hashtags (examples: #baseball, #knitting, #instructionaldesign). You don’t have to dig through individual communities and forums to find what people are saying about a topic.

Again it’s difficult to engage in a deeper conversation from just following the hashtags, but groups can hold guided discussion by centering the Twitter exchange around a set of guiding questions which people in the group respond to individually. In the next few posts I’ll be sharing more about my own attempt to learn how to use Twitter as a tool have an ‘actual conversation’ with like minds. I’ll review the preparation &  steps needed to hold a Twitter chat, and I’ll also take some time to analyze the benefits & drawbacks of this format of conversation. Finally, I would like to take a deeper look at some of the Twitter tools out there that help both faciliators and participants.

Using twitter as a conversation tool can still pose challenges and seem restrictive, but if you leverage it’s strengths and adopt a Zen approach to absorbing with wave of content and thoughts from others, it’s actually a great window into how others feel about the topics you care about.

Fighting Management Preconceptions about Social Learning

I just found this wonderful preso on Social Learning. I kept on slapping thigh laughing as I read… “Oh yeah, that’s a good one!” For me the highlights were:

Yes, Play is OK - you need it to grow innovative, collaborative and fast-adapting employees.

“Control is an illusion” – Okay… this is where I slip into incredulous teenager mode: Duh! You can control what people are learning and sharing about as easily as you can keep water in a sieve.  The presenters note that “80% of learning happens outside” of formal learning systems in their control. This is “Informal Learning” in action. The faster leadership realizes that building a company culture where learning is valued, the quicker they will start fostering a truly effective organization. Also, it’s very important to build the expectation that employees are really responsible for learning (their job and how to enhance their work).

People already share bad information - no kidding. Everyone has experienced the grapevine effect in a workplace. Human beings honestly seek knowledge about the goings on, some need it to function and work effectively without fear. They will even speculate on management’s behavior when they have no information, which is why transparency is less dangerous than keeping your lipped buttoned.

I also really liked the fact that they provided some solutions for measuring ROI (Return on Investment).(CRUD: I actually wrote this section but it got lost in the blog ether when I was trying to save my post)  I think it’s possible to tie a company’s increased success to social learning initiatives through anecdotal stories.  Also, connecting increased levels of innovation could also be possible. Think James Burke’s Connections (the show from the early eighties). Much of the show argued that the worlds most famous and influential innovations such as the combustion engine would not have happened if people did not make connections with each other.  I think if you analyzed the history or development of a particular innovation at your company you can actually trace the connections that were needed to make the innovation happen. You may be able to identify whether or not these connections would have happened with the social networking  efforts in place.

Some excellent points were made, but I suspect that no amount of brilliant arguments will convince the hardcore curmudgeons that insist that Social Learning/Networking is bad and evil. My only question… Can I work for the folks who made this presentation?

Okay… so now I understand what Twitter is all about

Image originally from the Morguefile. Click to view the original

Image originally from the Morguefile. Click to view the original

I’ll admit the idea of telling people what you were doing at any given moment did not appeal to the side of me that adores my privacy. Also, being involved in conversations with others that absobed so much chatter didn’t spark the curiosity of that extremely methodical part of me.

Yet the side of me that has come to appreciate “Stream of Consciousness” really gets it.

But after first joining Twitter I can see what people like about it.

A few tricks I learned quickly to reduce the noise factor on twitter:

  • The more followers/followees you have the faster the pace of the conversation. It’s good to search for conversations using “key words.” You can also save the chat
  • You can easily save tweets you like by clicking the “Star” or favorites option.
  • Just accept that you’re not going to get every piece of information being shared. Twitter is pretty ephemeral and it embodies that life of ephemerality characteristic of some aspects of “Internet life.”
  • Make comments even ones that appear to have no point every now and then.
  • If you’re sharing something cool include the link (be forewarned… if the link is too long you may not be able to share it. Hopefully, web developers out there whose pages require long urls are noting this. Or the twitter people might be able to develop a feature that allows you to associate links to text so you don’t go over the 140 character limit).
  • Addressing someone directly requires including their Twitter ID (ie. @nlkilkenny) in your tweet or post.
  • If you must, you can search through the archive of a saved search. Depending on the volume of a conversation you may be searching for sometime till you get to the beginning.

I’ve actually learned a lot this weekend on Twitter. Sorry to go off on a tangent, but I get this way when I learn a good deal of new and fascinating stuff.  I saved a search for Arduino technologies because I’ve very interested in learning how to make clothing and knitwear use electronic features using the Arduino Lilypad.

Arduino Lilypad
Arduino Lilypad

Can you imagine having a purse that’s hooked up to your cellphone so that it blinks a certain way when different people call? I’d also like to make some kind of garment (even just wristbands) for my brother that plays different sounds. He’s a musician that tries to bring traditional and non-traditional sounds and instruments together: OO-Ray.  I was searching through Make.com’s site and found some very fascinating applications with Arduino tech including this Fabric Synthesizer. What a wonderful way to showcase ingeniuity and creativity.

Art and textiles meet electronics and music

Art and textiles meet electronics and music

Accessibility Discussion: Informal Learning in Action

One of the lectures I attended this afternoon was canceled. An astute member of the audience stood up and decided that he would probe folks in the room about what they already knew about accessibility. He probably realized that there would be people in the audience who were passionate about the subject and he wanted to hear what they had to share.

Different people shared their definitions and experiences with trying to make their online courses accessible. In the end we walked away with a number of interesting thoughts and resources.

One woman shared a video of her experience in testing a site with someone who was visually impaired. The student was working with a website that had the ‘narrator’ on. They were using the mouse to scroll over items on the page. You could see the student’s frustration as you heard the narrator describe every item on the page. There were too many elements.

It actually made me think that creating pages with simple and shorter navigation is much more accessible than having multiple elements in a left-hand menu.  Also, providing some real estate between objects on a page might help the visually impaired find or move around a page much more easily.

In listening to the conversation, I gathered that several of the people there were frustrated with their efforts to make things truly accessible and 508 compliant. Many were most likely running into faculty or developers who didn’t see the value or simply didn’t understand what accessibility and true 508 compliance meant.

Here are a few of the notable resources that were shared (that I recorded):

Please note, I got many of these sites on my own after just listening to the conversation and looking them up on my own.

I felt that it was an incredibly valuable discussion; in fact, it was one presentation/session where I actually learned a great deal because I was learning from my peers. I mentioned this to an older gentleman who was sitting near me, and he only commented that he wasn’t sure what “was garbage” and what “was not garbage” from all that was shared and discussed. It occurred to me that he probably wanted ‘an expert’ telling him or lecturing to him rather than relying on the knowledge of his peers.   I simply replied, “But that’s like the nature of the web, you have to look through things and sort of determine this on your own.”

One man’s trash is another person’s treasure. He had a valid point, but in many of the topics shared at tech-conferences like these there is little or no expertise available because the topics are so new. You have to build knowledge or figure it out on your own or with the help of others. Is this a generational thing wanting expertise on topics to be fed to you while you passively learn?

Trash can be treasure (interesting art photo of trash - you can click on the image to view the original page it is featured on)

Trash can be treasure (interesting art photo of trash - you can click on the image to view the original page it is featured on)


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