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The 31 Day Comment Challenge: Becoming a Better Blog Citizen

Love_comments One of the things that I love the most about blogging is comments. Yes, I usually enjoy putting my thoughts out into the ether, but even more than that I want to hear back from people about their thoughts, ideas, etc. Comments are the lifeblood of blogging and for new bloggers, they can be the difference between sticking it out for the long haul and throwing in the towel.

One of the most prolific commenters I know is Sue Waters, so I was not surprised to get a tweet from her yesterday asking if I'd be interested in joining her latest project, a 31 Day Comment Challenge, similar to last year's very successful 31 Days to Building a Better Blog. Edublogger Kim Cofino is also joining in and has posted a nice description of the project here:

We would like to have a month of focused commenting for those of us that are interested in becoming better blog citizens (thanks to Martin Weller for the phrasing) by actively participating in conversations and sharing your learning, especially with those new to blogging.

We would like to challenge participants to be better blog citizens tracking who is the commenter with:

  • The most comments on a wide range of blogs (not just the “top” edubloggers)
  • The most high quality comments that thoughtfully reflect on the topic
  • The comments that provoke and promote the most learning

Sue has even managed to secure monetary prizes from coComment and other sponsors (more details on the prizes soon).

Silvia Tolisano of Langwitches is also helping to organize and you can check out her post on the challenge here.

This is an evolving project, so please feel free to share your ideas and feedback about how it should look. Here's some of what I'm thinking:

  • I'm assuming that we'll have activities similar to those we had for the 31 Days to Building a Better Blog challenge. Any thoughts people have on commenting activities to include would be great. We've  set up a wiki for the project here.
  • This is a great opportunity to expand beyond existing networks to combat homophily (you didn't think I could do another post without mentioning that, did you?). We can use this as a way to start to create new conversations across networks, so we'll want to have some activities to encourage that.
  • CoComment has agreed to sponsor some prizes for participants. If you aren't already using a tool to manage your comments, you may want to go sign up with them and start practicing. Sue has a great post on using CoComment to get you started.

Commenting is a great way to expand the learning benefits of blogging. It's also the best way to build your personal learning network and to create a readership for your blog (if that's your goal).

I hope you'll join us in the challenge. If you're interested, please let me know in comments or, better yet, sign up here. If you're artistically inclined, please feel free to create a logo for us (we'd love that!). I'd also ask that you spread the word through your own blog--the more people we have participating, the better!

Photo via Morbit Photography

Combating "Birds of a Feather" Syndrome

Marbles For the past few days I've been deep into thinking and learning about homophily, our tendency to connect to people who share similar backgrounds, experiences, interests and values. I've been excited to see a conversation beginning to occur both here in comments and at other blogs. It's interesting to see the conversations evolve and new pieces being added to the puzzle.

As I continue my reading, discussions and thinking, I've delved into some concepts I haven't visited for awhile, most particularly the nature of networks and two types of behaviors that occur to build them--bonding and bridging activities. I think that these offer additional ways to think about the issue of homophily and give us some strategies for creating a better balance for healthier network growth.

Adaptive Networks and the Role of Bonding and Bridging Activities
If you believe in the value of networked learning, it's because you've observed that there's value in the social capital that we develop through our participation in networks. In other words, we benefit from our connections to the people in our network.

However, as Lenore Newman and Ann Dale observe in their paper on Network Structure, Diversity and Proactive Resilience Building, not all social networks are created equal:

". . . networks composed of "bridging" links to a diverse web of resources strengthen a community's ability to adapt to change, but networks composed only of local "bonding" links which compose constraining social norms and foster group homophily can reduce resilience."

This paper raises a couple of issues for me--the idea of bonding and bridging activities and the notion that we need a healthy balance of both to create resilient networks.

Clearly it's the bonding opportunities that attract most of us to social media and the development of our personal networks. How excited we become by finding legions of like-minded people who finally "get us." It's the many instances of "me too" and "I've had that experience" that seem to most draw us together. They are a big part of what makes learning through social media so rewarding--we feel part of a large learning family.

These bonding activities help us build strong networks, but how resilient are those networks in adapting to change? Again from Newman and Dale:

"A densely developed social capital network can, for example, lead to the exclusion of outsiders, make excess claims on group members, and restrict individual freedom (Portes, 1998). Bonding capital has the potential to hinder social innovation by 1) cutting off actors from needed information and, 2) imposing social norms that discourage innovation.

My interest in homophily developed as part of my consideration of why edubloggers and bloggers involved in workplace learning were not having more dialogue on 21st century literacy skills. I realize now that what I was observing was that the bonding behaviors for both groups have been very strong, creating internal cohesion, and a great sense of community. However there have been fewer bridging behaviors connecting the two communities, effectively cutting each group off from learning more from the other. This, in turn, may seriously impact both groups' abilities to adapt to the changes they are currently experiencing.

Bridging behaviors, argue Newman and Dale are what help us create resilient networks:

Bridging social capital allows actors to access outside information and overcome social norms with support from outside the local network, in addition to increasing access to diverse forms of other capital. Because bridging capital brings in new and potentially novel information, it is here that bonding capital provides the group resilience needed to absorb the benefits of bridging capital; the two capitals are complementary. The sheer amount of social capital is not likely to be a good indicator of how well a community will be able to engage problems. It is a dynamic balance of bonding and bridging social capital that builds resilience and makes the difference between a small community “getting by” or “getting ahead” (Dale and Onyx 2005).

What strikes me here is this quote: "The sheer amount of social capital is not likely to be a good indicator of how well a community will be able to engage problems." 

Right now, we have a huge quantity of social capital that is being developed every day. If I look at the communities I'm dealing with, for example, new bloggers come online constantly, adding their voices to the conversation. But the issue isn't the quantity, of course. It's the mix of bonding vs. bridging that goes on that truly is the measure of the effectiveness of the network, both on a large scale, as well as in individual personal learning networks. If my personal learning network consists of people who largely think as I do, then I'm focusing too much on bonding and not enough on bridging and need to find a way to develop greater bridging social capital. It's why sometimes I feel like I'm stagnating ("getting by") rather than growing ("getting ahead.").

Bridge Developing More Bridging Social Capital
The question becomes then, how to engage in more bridging? I actually think it begins with diagnosing my tendencies toward homophily--a homophily self-assessment if you will. This is something I've started to do here and, through comments, discovered that Tom Hamilton is doing on his own blog. The first step in solving a problem is to admit you have it.

I can also start building bridges myself between the various communities I belong to, something that Meryn Stol suggested I do.

But these are relatively simple steps that don't get at some of my deeper concerns. What I'm wondering now are things like:

  • How do I find and connect to more diverse voices online? As I said the other day, I don't know that this is an issue of me being more interdisciplinary--I already read a fairly diverse set of materials. This is more about finding the voices that don't echo what I already believe. I'm honestly not sure how to do that? How do I do a search on "the opposite of The Bamboo Project"?
  • What do I do about not having access to a lot of other perspectives? How do you connect to groups of people who are not online and who may not be part of your physical network either?
  • What are the best ways to build bridges between communities? I can do as Meryn suggested, visit various blogs and leave comments and links to pull the two groups together, but does that work? And if only a few people do it, can you really achieve the critical mass necessary to build the bridges?
  • How do you get homophilous communities to be more open? One of my ongoing frustrations with building bridges between academic and workplace learning communities (both on and off-line) is that both seem to be closed to the perspectives of the other. The work world is dismissive of education as being too "academic" and not getting the real world, while educators feel that businesses don't understand the pressures and issues that they live with. Each may be speaking some truths, but I also think that these are symptoms of the closed networks that each group has created. Homophily breeds intolerance and polarization.
  • How can we get technology to help? The current state of social media is that it tends to build strong bonds, but it doesn't necessarily contribute to building bridges. Nat Torkington has some ideas here on how to mix things up. I'd like to actually see these at work in social software.

This is obviously an ongoing issue for me, something I'm trying to understand as I honestly believe that we will not get the full benefit of social media until we can figure out how to build more resilient networks through bridging social capital.

What ideas do you have for how we could build more bridging behaviors and opportunities into our online activities? How can we find more diverse voices and create connections between different communities so we could learn from each other?

Photos via Michelle Brea and WisDoc

Understanding Homophily on the Web

Diversity A few days ago I wrote that I worried the Internet is making me stupid because of a phenomenon called "homophily"--the tendency for we humans to connect to and bond with people who share common backgrounds, interests and values. The rise of the social web gives us even greater opportunities to connect with people we wouldn't encounter in physical life. However the features of social media tend to reinforce homophily by pointing us to other people like us, as with rating systems ("other people who bought this book also bought. . " ) and social networking sites where we connect with friends of friends of friends. The effect of this can be that we tend to associate online primarily with those people who think as we do, which in turn can cause us tune out the possibilities that there are other ways to think.

Happily, that post resulted in a rash of comments, as well as a follow-up post from Ethan Zuckerman, one of the people I quoted in my previous post. Previously I had intended to move into a post on strategies for challenging homophily, but that will have to hold for now as I continue to explore my sense of what it means.

I see a few issues here:

  • Is homophily about being interdisciplinary or is it about something broader?
  • Who is online and what are they doing? Essentially can we believe that we're hearing all voices online?

Is Homophily About Being Interdisciplinary?
Many of my commenters indicated that they don't feel they're being impacted by homophily, pointing to the fact that they read blogs from many different areas of interest. Said May, for example:

I don't really read anyone who writes like me. I write book and movie reviews, but I never like to read blogs that are just book or movie reviews. I write about health and lifestyle stuff but I don't subscribe to any blogs about it either. I subscribe to non-profit and marketing blogs, but I don't write about that kind of thing in my blog for the most part.

Basically, I just pay attention to what I'm interested in online the same way I do in books and magazines. I don't think that makes anyone stupid. That's just following your passion.

Amy Sample Ward has a file that she calls "fun":

What I do to try to keep my mind open is have a folder in my RSS reader called "fun." I add feeds here that aren't ridiculous and silly, but are things that I wouldn't normally associate with my daily job duties. It keeps my mind fresh with new ideas, links I would have never come across, and new friends that I have found usually have a lot more in common with me than I would have expected at first.

What I wonder, though, is if that's enough. Reading blogs outside of your tight interest areas is, no doubt, a good step forward in combating online homophily, but is that really exposing us to different ways of thinking?

In some sense, yes. Different disciplines (i.e., art, science, learning, etc.) have different underlying frameworks for thinking about information, using it, acting in the world, etc. A business mind-set isn't the same as an artistic one.

But I don't think that being interdisciplinary is enough to combat what I'm talking about. I don't think that homophily means that you just have a narrow range of interests. I also think it's about staying within narrow cultural confines that you may not even be aware exist.

If I look at my feed reader, it is stuffed with blogs and news sources that span a broad range of topics, from art, to business, to science and technology. BUT, for the most part, the authors I'm reading are decidedly Western and all are English-speaking--mostly from the US, Canada, the UK and Australia. From what I can tell, most are white and all are over 18. I have a few Indian bloggers in my reader, so that broadens things a little, but honestly, not by a lot.

Because I don't speak another language, I'm not able to read any blogs or articles from non-English speaking authors, not easily anyway, so clearly I'm missing something in terms of their perspectives. And the mere fact that we're still in the early stages of social media adoption means that I'm also hearing from people who have a more technological bent and the means and resources to express themselves online.

My point here is that while I may be reading across a range of disciplines, am I reading across a range of cultural perspectives and various world views? I would say that I'm not. And I doubt that I'm an exception.

Ethan Zuckerman in his post, Homophily, Serendipity, Xenophilia, says:

It’s my contention that living in the 21st century requires understanding what people think, feel and want in different parts of the world, given that both the challenges and opportunities of next several decades are global, not local ones. (Understanding Iraqi attitudes towards a US occupying force and Shia/Sunni/Kurdish tensions better might have mitigated the disastrous invasion of Iraq. Understanding Chinese and Indian economic aspirations is probably a prerequisite to figuring out how to regulate carbon emissions while those nations embrace automobile ownership. And activists trying to change Chinese policy in Darfur would benefit from better understanding of Chinese pride, the concept of “face” and the power of nationalism.)

This makes sense to me, although I would also argue that we need to have a better sense of the broad range of cultural belief systems that exist within our own country.

As I've discussed here before, my husband and step-son are African-American. It is only through several years of intimate contact with them that I've been able to fully appreciate the complexities and differences in our world views that are a result of our very different backgrounds. Yes, we are American and therefore share a number of beliefs. However the experience of being a black man in America results in a decidedly different world view when compared to my experiences as a white woman. Add in our differing socioeconomic and religious backgrounds and you can see where this creates opportunities for many misunderstandings, as well as deep learning.

My experiences of being married to someone who comes from a very different background than mine have shown me how much I had taken for granted about world views. And I think this is one of the problems of homophily, online or in real life. It's insidious, operating in the background, and it's not until you're engaged in a dialogue with someone who has different ideas of and values about things like the individual vs. the group or attitudes towards authority that you truly appreciate how narrow-minded you can become. If we don't actively challenge ourselves to fight homophily, we can quickly lose sight of the fact that it even exists.

Who Is Online and What Are They Doing? Diversity_2
One of the things that I think we easily forget online is that there are a lot of people who are NOT represented there. Zuckerman, for example, argues that there's a very real digital divide between developing nations and the developed world when it comes to using social  media.  We also have continuing divides within our own nations. In the US, only 56% of African Americans are online. I was unable to find the percentages of them who are blogging, but I would assume that it's even less than what we see with white Americans because there are fewer African-Americans online. And Danah Boyd has done a nice job of raising the issue of socioeconomic class in MySpace and Facebook, pointing to another kind of digital divide.

My point here is that if we are getting a lot of information from and engaging in dialogues with other bloggers (as many of us are), it's easy for us to forget who is NOT part of the conversations. We end up operating in siloes without even knowing it.

This is a problem with social networking sites, too. If we're operating in Facebook, for example, then are we hearing from and connecting to other perspectives? Statistics indicate that only 14% of Facebook users are non-white and 58.4% of them have some college education. Is that representative of a broad range of views and perspectives? I don't think so.

Homophily online is already problematic in that the characteristics of social software tend to draw us toward like-minded people. This tendency is exacerbated by the fact that even if we are to fight those tendencies, we may still be missing significant cultural perspectives because these individuals aren't even a big part of the online social commons in which we're operating.

Why Should We Care?
Why am I spending so much time and thinking on this issue? Because I think that it's the hidden problem of homophily that creates silos we don't even realize we're living in.

As this study shows, the more we deliberate and discuss with other like-minded people, the more polarized we can become in our views of the world. It becomes increasingly difficult for us to imagine any other way of thinking about the world because we spend most of our time talking to people who think like we do.

I see this, for example, in myself. I tend to be attracted to people online who see the value of social media. The more time I spend conversing with them about how great it is, the more difficult it becomes for me to deal with "traditionalists" who are less enamored of the technologies. I find myself dismissing them as "Luddites" or wanting to argue them out of their beliefs, rather than trying to understand their thought processes or perspectives.

Further, as Zuckerman points out, the more we're blinded to homophily at work, the more likely we are to miss huge issues, trends and opportunities. This is what I meant when I said that the Internet was making me stupid.

Maybe what I've described here are my own personal failings. Maybe I'm the only one who has a decided lack of cultural perspectives represented in my feed reader. But I'm not sure that's true.  I think that many (most?) of us do this, at least on occasion. It's human to be attracted to people like us--it makes us feel safe to say "me too" and to find our "tribe" of like-minded believers. Homophily is a sort of default setting that has the advantage of making use feel safe, but that can, in the process, blind us to the fact that we're no longer associating with other tribes on a regular basis. The first step in changing this, though, lies in recognizing that we're doing it, even if we think that we aren't.

Photos via chrisjfry and puroticorico

Why the Internet is Making Me Stupid

Birds_of_a_feather2 I learned a new word this week--"homophily," which is the tendency for people to associate and bond with others who share their interests, values, culture, demographics, class etc. This is the all-too-familiar online behavior I was remarking on earlier this week in my post on 21st century workplace literacy. There I noted that it seems like edubloggers tend to associate online with other edubloggers, while the workplace learning folks are talking to other workplace learning professionals. And it seems like there's little cross-communication happening between the two groups. I plan to come back to that discussion, especially after seeing all the great comments, but right now I'm fascinated by the whole homophily idea and how social media tools seem to further strengthen this very human tendency.

It was Amy Gahran's post, Breaking out of the Echo Chamber, that helped me identify the phenomenon. It's something I've noticed before, but didn't realize had a name attached to it. I've been thinking that being online has been this fabulous learning experience (which it definitely has been in many ways), but after following Amy's trail of links, I can also see that it also has the potential to make me dumber. She points to an interview with Ethan Zuckerman and Solana Larsen in which Zuckerman says:

“We know so little about one another, and what we do know is generally so wrong, that our first instinct is to try to shut each other off. …We have to work a whole lot harder. We can’t just assume that being connected [via the net] solves these problems. If you let us work it out on our own, we tend to reinforce our own prejudices and stereotypes. . .

Cass Sunstein, an amazing legal scholar, says that one of the dangers of the internet is that we’re only hearing like voices, and that makes us more polarized. Homophily can make you really, really dumb. What’s incredible about the net is we have this opportunity to hear more voices than ever. But the tools we tend to build to it have us listening to the same voices again and again."

Social media--blogs, social bookmarking, social networks--all of these can be tremendous ways for us to find and bond with like-minded people online. In fact, these tools have allowed us to find even MORE people like us than we tended to encounter in "meat space." The problem is that we'll tend to seek out ONLY like-minded people, looking for groups, blogs, etc. that reinforce our preconceived notions and our personal interests. We then start to live in an online world where we don't see or hear other voices.

Worse, I think we're living under this delusion that we're actually BROADENING our experiences because we're connecting to such large groups of people. I suspect all that does is further reinforce our pre-existing beliefs while at the same time making us believe that somehow we're being broad-minded because there are so many more people in our network. More of the same thinking isn't exactly a recipe for learning.

Partially this is a human thing--we tend to build relationships on finding the commonalities. But it's being encouraged by the technologies:

  • We go to Amazon or Netflix and get recommendations for books and movies based on what other people like us are reading or watching.
  • On Facebook, LinkedIn and MySpace, we tend to first connect with the people we already know in real-life who tend to share our same values and world-view. Then we connect to their friends (who presumably also share similar world-views) and to seek out groups etc. that fit in with our interests and comfort zones. I know, for example, that as a Democrat, I've made zero attempt to find Facebook groups for Republicans. I don't even look at them.
  • As I've already noticed, many of us operate within the same narrow blogging fields. Edubloggers seek out other edubloggers, nonprofits seek out other nonprofits. There's nothing necessarily wrong with this--except that if these are the ONLY blogs in our feed readers. (Here's a test, by the way--go check your reader right now and see how many blogs you have in there that come from industries and occupations other than your own. If you do, I'll guess it's because you may also have blogs related to personal interests, etc. Do you have anything in there that doesn't MATCH what you already think? I know I don't have too many).

All of this has the impact of making me dumber. I know this. I think it's been the source of many of my instances of writer's block here. I also can see how it would make me a little lazy as a thinker--not as many challenges to my worldview. Certainly I get comments and suggestions that have me tinkering with the edges of my ideas, but am I encountering things that fundamentally shake my worldview or at least force me to examine my own? And if I do, do I actually examine my view or do I dismiss what I see, read or hear? I'm ashamed to say that many times I do.

The question becomes, what to do about it? If this is something to truly break out of (and I think it is), then how to do that?

That's something I'm going to delve into more deeply in another post. Through Amy's links I found a few ideas. I also found some interesting stuff on my own that I want to explore.

In the meantime--what do you think? Do you see homophily going on in your online interactions? Do you think it's making you dumber? What are you doing about it?

Photo via desert trumpet.

21st Century Workplace Literacy: What Does that Mean and How Do We Engage More People in the Discussion?

Literacy_2 I find that when it comes to learning and instruction, I tend to run in two different circles, as evidenced by the "Learning" tab in my feed reader. Here, I'm following both bloggers from the world of workplace learning (i.e. corporate and organizational trainers and instructional designers) and edubloggers--people who are working in the k-12 and university systems. I do this in part because I tend to be working with both constituencies, so I need to keep an eye on developments in each area. I also do this because it's interesting to see the cross-over (or lack of cross-over) that occurs.

One of the areas that is generates a fair amount of discussion in the edublogosphere is how to define 21st century literacy. What are the skills that students will need in order to be successful in a constantly changing work world? David Warlick, for example, has some ideas here.  Last year, Stephen Downes had some some thoughts on what you really need to learn here.

In a global economy, these are conversations all nations should be having if they hope to remain competitive, and you would think that this would be an area where there would be considerable discussion going on between workplace learning professionals and edubloggers. Interestingly, this does not seem to be the case.  

From what I've observed, edubloggers are weighing in with their ideas about the key skills young people will need to be successful in the world of work, but it's educators talking to other educators without a lot of input from people who are operating in the work world for which students are supposedly being prepared.

This is nothing new of course--education and the so-called "real world" have long been disconnected (at least according to most businesses). However, given our new-found ability to connect the two groups through technology and the high stakes involved, it's unfortunate that we aren't doing more to have joint discussions. And I mean on the ground floor, practitioner to practitioner--not these high level "partnerships" that supposedly bring together business and education but never seem to really mean anything at work or in the classroom.

I see a few issues and implications with this . . .

First, if educators are basically talking to other educators, attending conferences together, running in the same blogging circles, etc., how do they truly get an appreciation for the needs of the workplace? Certainly they can make certain inferences about what constitutes "workplace literacy," but it seems to me that if you're talking about skills that people need to be successful in a particular environment, it would be more productive to reach outside of your educator circle and connect to the people who will be hiring the workers you're preparing.  Shouldn't there be more discussions happening between the two groups?

I don't say this as a criticism as much as an observation. I suspect it has to do with the fact that online we still tend to connect to the people we know and feel comfortable with, but then are we getting the most from the technology if we end up having the same conversations with the same kinds of people? (Amy Gahran has an excellent blog post on this tendency, by the way, and some suggestions for how to reach out to people who are outside of our normal circles).Literacy_2_2

I'm also wondering why workplace learning professionals aren't talking more about the issue of changing workplace literacy and 21st century foundational success skills. We know, for example, that people need to have what we've always called "basic literacy," (reading, writing, math skills) and it's understood that for people to be successful at work they need some minimal level of skills in these areas. They are the scaffolding that allow people to develop more technical skills.

It seems to me that technology and dramatically different ways of doing business (virtual teams, etc.) are drastically impacting our definitions of basic workplace literacy. If we haven't really re-defined workplace literacy, how can we be sure that staff have those underlying skills? I think, for example, that being able to learn new materials and skills quickly is a fundamental workplace literacy. Yet what has been done or is being done to ensure that people who are in the workplace now have those skills? And if they don't, how can they realistically operate in such a fast-paced economy?

Personally what I'd like to see is more conversations happening between edubloggers and workplace learning professionals on the issue of 21s century workplace literacy. The same technology that is impacting our definitions also provides us with the means to have the discussions, although it will mean we have to step outside of our silos.   I know it's too much to hope that we'd start attending each other's conferences (limited dollars, limited time), but at a minimum, it would be nice if we did something virtual to share ideas and generate discussion. I think we'd actually have a lot to learn from each other.

How could we start better connecting the two worlds to further the conversations and define how we could all proceed together to ensure that people have the foundational workplace skills they need to be successful? Is this even an issue?

Photo via Julie Lindsay

A Primer on Pecha Kucha for Learning

Janet Clarey and I are preparing for a session at the Brandon Hall Innovations in Learning conference where we intend to use the pecha kucha presentation style to share several social media tools. This got me to thinking about how pecha kucha is an excellent (and fun) tool for learning, so in this post I'm pulling together a quick little primer on pecha kucha for learning.

What is Pecha Kucha?
Pecha Kucha (pronounced peh-chak-cha) is a presentation format originally devised by Astrid Klein and Mark Dytham of Klein-Dytham Architecture. Think of it as presentation haiku--a highly structured environment for expressing ideas concisely and clearly.

A pecha kucha presentation consists of 20 PowerPoint slides, 20 seconds per slide, for a total presentation time of 6 minutes, 40 seconds. In a live pecha kucha event, you give the tech person your 20 slides, already pre-timed to transition every 20 seconds, so you're forced to keep moving whether you're ready or not. If you do a pecha kucha screencast, it's a little less nerve-wracking.

Probably the most frequently-seen example of pecha kucha in action is Dan Pink's presentation, Get to the PowerPoint in 20 Slides:


Ways to Learn with Pecha Kucha
The most obvious way to use pecha kucha for learning is as an instructional technique. A trainer can use it to present learning content, either in a live session, or through a screencast delivered as an e-learning module. But that's leaving out a big part of what makes pecha kucha fun--having multiple presenters and the energy that comes from that. I also think that one of the benefits of pecha kucha from a learner perspective is that it forces people to get at the essence of a topic or problem. Although it can be a decent instructional tool, I think there's even greater value in having learners use it themselves.

Some of the ways pecha kucha could be used for learning:

  • For learning assessment--At the conclusion of a training session, have each learner present a pecha kucha-style summary of what they learned. This could be done either in a live setting or even in an online course. Learners could  record their pecha kuchas as screencasts or deliver them live via webinar. Most online conferencing systems allow you to change presenters, so you could just switch between the different participants. Could be a lot more fun and interesting than a test or other assessment format.
  • To support reflective practice--As part of creating the culture of reflective practice, consider setting up regular pecha kucha events (lunch time, a Friday morning meeting) where staff are encouraged to share something they've learned related to a particular theme or to share a problem they're experiencing. This could also be used to de-construct a completed project or to reflect on an experience the team has shared.
  • As a form of virtual teambuilding--If you have team members working in various locations, do an online pecha kucha session. This could either be done in real time (through a webinar) or you could have people record their sessions and put them into a wiki. Staff could use the format to introduce themselves to their teammates or to discuss what their department does and how it fits into the larger organization. They can then learn more about the organization and the people they're working with. This could also be a fun way to do Employee Orientation sessions.
  • For an online conference--Invite people to submit pecha-kucha style pieces related to a conference theme or covering a specific tool or topic. These could be embedded into a blog or wiki during the conference, available for viewing once the conference is over. The comments section could be used to invite further discussion and feedback.
  • To share conference learnings--Previously I suggested that the price of admission to a conference should be to share what was learned. Pecha kucha would be a perfect format for this, as in this example on Learning at Learning 2007

If you use pecha kucha for learning, you may want to consider interspersing Q&A sessions in between the presentations. This allows people to dig a little deeper into the topic if necessary.

The advantage of pecha kucha as a learning technique is that it's fun and fast-paced. It's very visual and lends itself well to a multitude of learning situations and audiences--it can be appealing to both the geeks and the salespeople.  It also forces learners to get to the heart of a topic--the "need to know," rather than the "nice to know." And it limits the "talkers," while taking the pressure off the more quiet people in your organization.

Creating a Basic Pecha Kucha Presentation
Pecha kucha is one of those deceptively simple formats that on the surface seems incredibly easy--20 slides, 20 seconds per slide, how hard is that? The challenge lies in taking your topic and making it tell a story within those parameters.

Start by firing up PowerPoint, going to Slide Sorter view and inserting 20 slides. That way you have immediately set up your constraints--you have exactly these 20 slides to use.

Then begin plotting out your "story line." What do you want to say and in what order do you want to say it?  Think of your slides  as a sort of story-board. Put a few words or concepts on each slide to help you set up the "plot." Consider the order in which you're presenting them, too--are they telling the story the way you want them to?

Once you have your basic outline, it's time to start making it look good. Pecha kucha is very visual. Lots of words and bullets are severely frowned upon. You need photos and pictures that will support your points, so try checking out some of these sites to get the visuals you need.

You'll probably want to use PowerPoint's Notes view to write a script for your pecha kucha presentation, particularly if this is your first time doing one or if you plan to record your presentation. At a minimum, you'll need some way to script things out so that you can stay within your 20 second per slide parameter.

Once you have your slides in the order you want them and your script is written, be sure to practice. Out loud. Pecha kucha is about timing, so you need to be sure that your delivery is going to match your slides. Remember, it's 20 seconds per slide. That can either feel like no time at all or an eternity. You want it to feel just right.

Delivering a Pecha Kucha Presentation
Here are some basic guidelines for delivery.

  • Limit the introduction. Having a  30 minute introduction before you start your pecha kucha presentation is kind of cheating isn't it?
  • Create an environment that's conducive to the format. Pecha kucha is more informal and dynamic, so try to create a space and learning atmosphere that supports that. Think karaoke, not classroom.
  • Keep things moving--Ideally you have several people presenting, so keep things flowing and don't get bogged down in the transitions. If possible, have people get their presentations in ahead of time so that they can all be loaded onto a laptop and ready to roll.
  • Consider having Q&A--Again, if you're using pecha kucha as a learning tool, time for questions and answers might be very appropriate, particularly if you're assessing learning.
  • Have fun!

Pecha Kucha Resources
If you want to learn more, here are some additional resources to check out:

  • Pecha Kucha Global--This is the main site for finding pecha kucha sessions around the world.

Pecha kucha may not be right for every organization, but I'd suggest that it's definitely an idea worth considering if you're looking for another way to make learning experiences creative, fun and dynamic.

Anyone using pecha kucha for learning? Drop me a note or a comment--I'd love to hear more about it.

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Reflective Practice: Most Significant Change Stories

Thinking_2 I'm currently leading a project where we are bringing together four nonprofits and 11 young people who have dropped out of high school and/or who are aging out of foster care. There's a lot of data about the bad outcomes for HS dropouts, but not a lot of political will in some areas to do something about it. Through our project we are working with our student teams to help them videotape interviews with their peers and pull together digital stories that make the numbers come alive for people. Our ultimate goal is to put faces with the numbers so that we can engage the entire community in addressing the needs and issues of these youth.

As this is a grant-funded project, one of the requirements, of course is evaluation. This is being conducted by an outside organization using a technique I haven't previously experienced in these kinds of projects--"most significant change stories." Each month our team is required to submit 1-3 stories about what we are learning and how this is impacting the structure and approach of our projects, as well as our outcomes. It's been an interesting experience that has forced us to reflect more carefully on what is happening with our work.

I've written previously about incorporating reflective practice into individual work and organizational culture. This "most significant change story" strategy would be an excellent addition to the process. It could be used to:

  • Regularly reflect on your individual growth or the growth of a department or organization.
  • Measure the progress of various projects, similar to how it's being used with my project.
  • Help you or your organization reflect on crucible experiences, those "trial by fire" times in our life when everything about us is tested.
  • As part of a leadership development or certification training program.

The structure of the process is that we respond to several questions:

  • At what level is the change--individual, organizational, system-wide or community-wide?
  • How was the story obtained? (did it come from personal experiences? Overheard in meetings? Told to you by someone else?)
  • What's the story?
  • Why is it significant?
  • Which project outcome is it impacting and how?

Obviously the specific reflection questions might change depending on the context in which the stories are being gathered.

In our case, we are submitting the stories to evaluators who are compiling them for a final report. If you used this process for reflective practice, however, I would see using social media tools. For example, individual reflections might be maintained in a blog or microblog, like Tumblr. If you were using this as a tool for organizational development, I would create a wiki where there would be a more collaborative opportunity to build upon and comment on the stories, maintaining them in a single repository. If your organization was particularly brave, I'd even open up these significant change stories to your customers, at a minimum so they could see how you reflect on your experiences as an organization. Ideally you'd allow customers to submit their own and/or comment on what you've shared.

To encourage reflective practices, you have to create the right kinds of structures for them to flourish. The most significant change story technique combined with social media might be a good place to start.

Photo via galo/*

Happy Reader Appreciation Day!

Thank_you I started The Bamboo Project in August 2006. It began as a project with another blogger and for a few months it felt like we were the only two people reading it. Since then, slowly but surely, readership has grown and because of it, so have I.

Today is Reader Appreciation Day, so I want to let you know the things I love about you:

  • You teach me so much. With your comments, suggestions and links, every day I learn something new or find a new resource.
  • You help me connect to a broad network of professionals with shared interests. Through you, I've discovered new bloggers and new ideas and been able to build world-wide connections.
  • You challenge me to try new things. Twitter, Google Reader, Jing--all came to me through you.
  • You make things fun. While I blog in large part for myself, it's much more fun to be interacting with other people. So many of you have great senses of humor and an ability to make me not take things so seriously. I need and appreciate that.

Blogging can be serious drudgery at times, so honestly without all of you I'd probably have stopped awhile ago. You definitely make it worthwhile for me to get up in the morning and try to put something out into the world. Thank you for that!

Winners of the Reader Appreciation Day Drawing
As promised, I did a drawing this morning for the winners of my Reader Appreciation Day prizes--their choice of an Amazon or iTunes gift certificate. Congratulations to Avi Kaplan and Ena Gordon! What was really nice is that I had no idea that Ena or Avi were reading The Bamboo Project, so the drawing gave me a chance to "meet" a few new people.

Thanks to all of you for your time, attention and feedback. These are precious commodities in our world and I truly appreciate your willingness to share them with me.

Photo via vernhart.

Social Media 101 for PR Professionals Presentation in Philadelphia

Socialmedia_flyer2_copy_2 For those of you in the Philadelphia area with an interest in social media and/or public relations, I'll be doing a Social Media 101 presentation next Thursday, April  24 from 6-8:30 p.m. for the Philadelphia Black Public Relations Society . We'll be at:

Community College of Philadelphia: Center for Business & Industry Auditorium, C2-28
1751 Callowhill St., Philadelphia, PA 19130 (Entrance on 18th Street)

Members--$15, Non-Members--$25, Students--Free--Registration is payable at the door.

We'll go on a whirlwind tour of some basic tools--blogs, social networks, etc.--and discuss how they can be used by PR staff for professional development and 21st century relationship-building. Hope you can join us!

P.S. Tomorrow is Reader Appreciation Day, thanks to Robin Reagler and, as promised, I'll be doing a little "I Love You Readers" Giveaway to thank you for the time you give, both in reading and commenting. I'm actually going to do two prizes. Both winners will get their choice of either a $15 Amazon gift certificate or a $15 iTunes certificate (thanks to Britt Watwood for the i-Tunes idea). If you want to enter, be sure to email me by 12 midnight (EDT) tonight. I'll do the drawing tomorrow and announce the winners then. I may cook up some other ideas in the meantime, so stay tuned.

If you're a blogger, please consider joining us tomorrow. Readers make blogging worthwhile, so acknowledging their contributions just seems right--and a lot of fun.