Learning to Network and Networking to Learn

Today was Day 2 of the Technology Conference for Administrators at Tenaya Lodge just outside Yosemite. I presented Learning to Network and Networking to Learn as the second of two keynotes (the first was Chris Walsh’s Learning Everywhere All The Time). A few things about this experience are worth sharing here.

First of all, of course, I want to share the workshop wiki for Learning to Network and Networking to Learn, which include the slides, outline, and links to all the examples I mentioned – or planned to mention. ;)

Though the examples shared include many read/write web tools (such as blogs, wikis, podcasts, social networking, twitter and more), this workshop focuses on moving “beyond the tools” to look at what it means to create and participate in an online Personal Learning Network (PLN). So I thought it appropriate to include people from my PLN in the presentation. The slides were presented through Google Docs, so a related sidebar discussion did crop up. Happily it also included a surprising number of people who were in the room with their own laptops. If you look at the presentation you’ll also see I included very small text in the lower left corner of each slide meant to help the online visitors participate in and contribute to the presentation. (This is an idea I believe I picked up from Jen Jones.) However, this only works synchronously… people had to be available at the time I was presenting to take part.

So, the night before I added a discussion question to the wiki and posted an invitation to twitter asking people to share their stories about the impact of their PLN. The responses were rich and provided another means for the participants to continue their learning after the presentation. This is actually the biggest “take away” I have from this event in terms of something new that worked. In any case, the invitation to share still stands. I’d love to pass on your stories to future workshop participants (or even those from today who return to the wiki).

I had tested ustream just prior to the presentation and hoped to set it up at the beginning, but things were two well choreographed to allow that. The program was running behind and my introduction was smooth, so I didn’t take the time to setup the recording at the podium. However, with about 20 minutes to go in the presentation it came time to talk about ustream, so I went ahead and fired it up. Shortly after I hit record and at least captured the last few minutes of the presentation. I’ve often resisted ustreaming my presentations because it seems to take away from my focus on the participants in the room – and because it can put the face-to-face participants “on the spot” and actually reduce participation. In this case it seemed to go over well, though, and I’d like to try to find more ways to bring it into a session in a way that contributes value, not just wow factor.

When I remember not to shut the window, I’ve also taken to using Jing to capture a screencast of the sidebar conversations in these events (after the fact). I simply scroll through the conversation (quickly) and record it for review later. Here are two examples that captured some of the “backchannel chat” happening today: Google Docs Chat & Ustream Chat. (I think I lost some of the ustream chat and perhaps some of the Google chat by closing the windows at one point, though.)

Now that I’m sharing these, I wish I’d be better about capturing everything… and about following along with the chat and encouraging them to answer the questions and contribute. This is something else I’ve found – that unless I recruit someone else to moderate the conversation it tends to drift away from the presentation. ;)

The last thing I want to share is a compliment/criticism I received at the end of the day. One participant, a principal I believe, came up to tell me that he was more engaged in my keynote than any other session at the conference, primarily because the back channel chat allowed him to interact with some of the others in the room and from around the world. This was fantastic! But, he was telling me this after also participating in my Two-Way Teaching with the Two-Way Web breakout session in the afternoon, which wound up focusing on blogs and wikis. This session was more about how to use the tools and it included more educational examples – and more opportunities to ask questions – so it was fairly interactive (and practical) for a one hour breakout. However, he said that even though this session was “every bit as important” it was less engaging… because I didn’t include the back channel chat and online participation. For me, it was an awesome illustration of the truth of what “we” back channel chat and learn-by-doing advocates preach – and a reminder that I need to always put my best practices into play, not just when I’m modeling them.

I may know something about “Networking to Learn” now, but I’m definitely still sorting out this “Networking to Teach” business. Still, today seemed like a good day and the things I’ve shared here are bits I can build on for the future.