Sunday, May 4, 2008

How I got here and where I am - a journey of online participation

My final assignment for Learning Theories is to write a paper on any learning theory. That leaves it pretty wide open! As usual, I'm having a hard time nailing down exactly what stance I want to take. As my topic I chose Web 2.0, Communities of Practice, and probably with a little Wlodkowski's Cultural Motivation thrown in. Now what do I say...

As part of the paper, I thought I might be able to share my own experiences. I was making a few notes in the outline of my paper, but thought better of it. I'm here as a blogger to reflect, so I should put my reflections in a post. So what follows is a brief (ok, long) summary of my journey into this crazy, crazy online web 2.0 world.

Years ago, my ever so thoughtful husband bought me a pink iPod and a pink jogging suit for Valentine's day. Can you say sweet? I can't remember the year, but as a clue it was a first generation iPod mini. It must have been around the same time that I had bought my first computer - a Mac mini. It didn't take me long to discover podcasts in iTunes. I was addicted instantly, even falling asleep listening to them at night. I had to give up my music, since all my memory was taken up by podcasts. However, my interest slowly faded - it was constant work to sync and charge the iPod. The iPod ended up in the pile of abandoned things.

Around the same time as the iPod entered my life, so did participating on message boards. (Or maybe the message boards came first.) There's a couple I'll check in on daily. I got used to talking online publicly with others, albeit anonymously. I'll admit to being a bit embarrassed about sounding geeky/crazy to friends, as I'd say things like "yeah, I heard about [insert something cool] that!" Only to have to admit that it was someone online who had told me. Apparently, not everyone talks to people and forms relationships online! As I became more comfortable with message boards, I used them for professional reasons such as getting computer and programming help from tech boards. I was even subscribed to a couple listservs for elearning. (Anyone remember CourseBuilder for Dreamweaver?)

Now jump forward to 2007. I discovered blogs. Yes, they had been around for quite a bit already, and I read them here or there, but they weren't part of my routine. Suddenly, however, they became important to me. I found instructional designers! My manager was encouraging me to become one, but I wasn't sure. Finding all those blogs created interest for me. I felt curious, compelled, motivated. Passion formed. I built a huge subscription base in Google Reader. I checked it almost daily (and still do). I also joined LinkedIn after reading a news article about it. Why is that important? Because it was the first time I wasn't anonymous on the web. It was more than a little frightening to me. Then I signed up for school! That was a big step - committing to a Masters program. An online Masters program. I give blog reading a lot of credit for that, but I also owe thanks to my manager for prodding me, and also credit goes to plain, old luck - for just happening to work within a training team because there was no where else to put me (as a web developer).

To summarize up until this point: I talked on message boards, listened to podcasts, and read blogs, and was a member of LinkedIn. I started going to school for IPT (instructional and performance technology). Now here is where the next major step comes in. I started feeling like I was on the outskirts. I was reading the blogs, and even left a comment here or there - anonymously. But it didn't feel like enough. Creeping into my thoughts was the idea that I too should be a blogger. What a scary proposal! Took me several months to actually step up to it. And now I'm here. Trying to figure out my place. Learning etiquette. Talk to myself :)

And to bring it full circle with the start of this post, the next step was my instructor saying that maybe an idea for my final paper could be on blogs and Communities of Practice due to a small assignment where I applied online participation to the stages of "legitimate peripheral participation." Well...I could do that from an academic point of view OR (big or) I could do it from a personal perspective. I jumped the hurdle and started this blog. Not more than a couple days later, I got an invite through an e-newsletter to join LearningTown (a ning site). Then I heard a podcast by some teachers talking about Twitter. So I joined Twitter. Then I did some research on popular Web 2.0 sites in preparation for my final paper. I discovered, a social networking site for discovering music. Then I decided to give a little personalization to my blog by adding badges for my delicious links, twitter, linkedin, and thesixtyone. I am truly connected and it has been a whirlwind couple of weeks.

Where do I go from here? According to a Pew survey, I'm not a "creator" - I don't find media and rework into my own artistic formats. That would be interesting to try. I also need to continue participating - blogging and commenting. Maybe I can put my digital camera to use and start a flickr account. It'd be great to have an iPhone to keep me connected while away from home. Another big step - letting IRL-people know that I'm here. So, far I've been shy (i.e., scared silly) to admit that. It's one thing for strangers who are doing the same things to know about this, but it's quite another to fess up to people who don't even own computers or cell phones. They'll think I'm nuts! In in terms of work, perhaps a little too radical. Those however are my own fears and not necessarily fair to people I know. Time to get over it.

To conclude, if anyone is out there reading this - any suggestions for me? Where do I go from here? How can I make my experience richer, more purposeful, more beneficial to me or others? Because that's what it's all about.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Foundations of Instructional & Performance Technology

Yonnie Chyung published her book titled Foundations of Instructional and Performance Technology. I received copies of the chapters for my introductory class to the Boise State IPT program. What I liked most were all the diagrams showing concepts, a synthesis of sources for any given topic, and the clear explanations. From someone with very scattered learning on the subject, it was helpful to bring everything back to fundamentals and start with a concrete schema.

Monday, April 28, 2008


A special report from discusses a new tribe of nomads - those unwired mobile users, always connected to each other.
Another big misunderstanding of previous decades was to confuse nomadismwith migration or travel. As the costs of (stationary) telecommunications
plummeted, it became fascinating to contemplate “the death of distance” (the title of a book written by Frances Cairncross, then on the staff of The Economist). And since the early mobile phones were aimed largely at business executives, it was assumed that nomadism was about corporate travel in particular. And indeed many nomads are frequent flyers, for example, which is why airlines such as JetBlue, American Airlines and Continental Airlines are now introducing in-flight Wi-Fi. But although nomadism and travel can coincide, they need not.

Humans have always migrated and travelled, without necessarily living nomadic lives. The nomadism now emerging is different from, and involves much more than, merely making journeys. A modern nomad is as likely to be a teenager in Oslo, Tokyo or suburban America as a jet-setting chief executive. He or she may never have left his or her city, stepped into an aeroplane or changed address. Indeed, how far he moves is completely irrelevant. Even if an urban nomad confines himself to a small perimeter, he nonetheless has a new and surprisingly different relationship to time, to place and to other people. “Permanent connectivity, not motion, is the critical thing,” says Manuel Castells, a sociologist at the Annenberg School for Communication, a part of the University of Southern California, Los Angeles.

I have to admit that I'm not quite a mobile nomad. I avoid my cellphone as much as possible. I get a bit annoyed while eating dinner and a friend checks her text messages. But I'm part way there. I have this blog, I'm on LearningTown, I'm playing around with Twitter and Spaz, I want an iPhone, and I may have even texted a photo or two to a friend.

So, is it me? Or do these articles seem a little off, a bit not there - like hip parents trying to appreciate their son's latest and favorite band, but not really getting it?

Where I see a disconnect is in the lack of Web 2.0 discussion. Or in the idea of weak ties getting weaker while family and close friend ties grow. For instance, bringing Twitter into the discussion, (or even blogs/comments for that matter), would add a new dimension to the worries about not interacting "with the wider society around them" or not gaining from the various viewpoints of strangers. In my opinion, there is probably truth in the changes happening to in person communication. (Answering texts in the middle of dinner, for instance.) But I don't think that it's at the expense of interacting with strangers. What I do think is very relevant and I can't remember it being mentioned is the Digital Divide. What happens to those without computers, the Internet, mobile devices, text/IM plans? Are they left in the lurch?

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Act Locally

Here it is, already the end of the month and I'm just answering The Big Question for April--which is actually a great illustration of my answer. I procrastinate! I always mean to get around to doing things...

So, the question on the table is what would I like to do better as a learning professional. At the risk of sounding corny and at the risk of giving myself yet another thing to feel guilty about, my answer is that I want to use my talents to help my community.

I live in Bay View (a section of Milwaukee, WI) and there's a lot of talk about our schools, especially the local high school. While there are plenty of good things occurring at the school, there are also low test scores, high drop out rates, and bad attendance. Most parents in the neighborhood send their kids to other high schools, whether private or public ones in other parts of the city and county. Not a good sign. So what can I do? I have no idea, but I can't help but think that if I truly care about education, this would be a good place to invest a little of my time.

This probably doesn't mean that I'd jump in and start analyzing curriculum or designing instruction. However, I could attend public meetings. I could join a committee. I could share my passion for learning.

Of course, as a procrastinator, I'm a champion at creating excuses. I'm sooooo busy. I have school papers to write. I have projects for work that I could be catching up on. I have dogs to walk. I, I, I.

I need to get involved.

On another, but related topic, I've been thinking about the power of the social networks forming for ISD folks. For my final paper in Learning Theories, I'm focusing on Web 2.0 technologies applied to Communities of Practice. I'll probably mention LearningTown - a ning site that went up not too long ago. There are fabulous discussions going on. Lots of networking and sharing. Thinking about my own goal as a result of this month's Big Question, I wonder whether there may be ways to bring a community like that together on a volunteer project. Like the monthly Big Question, what if there were a monthly Big Project. Everyone contributes to a final product that would benefit public education. I can just imagine the mess this would involve, the risk for failure...a whole slew of roadblocks. But what if...

Saturday, April 12, 2008

$10 Did What?

Yesterday I watched a short segment on Good Morning America. A teacher (and her students) was featured as the person of the week. Giving each student a $10 bill, 20 students in all, she told them they could do anything they want with their $10. They could spend it on themselves or others. They could decide individually what to do or work as a group. The only clause was that they needed to write an essay on their decision. The end result? Over $6000 went to charities and helped their community. So, what subject was the teacher was teaching? English.

I couldn't help but be impressed. In school this semester, I've been studying learning theories, and this seemed the perfect example of combining elements of constructivism, andragogy, and motivation. The activity itself didn't teach essay composition, but the teacher noted that she expected the students to write from the heart. She gave meaning to their essays and created engagement.

I Shouldn't Do This

Or should I? I'm a student in instructional and performance technology. I read lots of blogs on the subject, but don't feel I have anything to say yet. What could I possibly contribute? However, it's no fun being on the outside, either. So here I am jumping into the mix. Will I sink or swim? Maybe I should have taken lessons first.