Borrowing from the Library to Support Workplace Learning

Joyce Valenza is a librarian rockstar who also happens to be the head librarian at my daughter's high school. A recent post she wrote for the School Library Journal on strategies for teaching and using social media showed up in my Twitter feed the other day. It turns out there are were some cool ideas in it that I think would translate well to workplace learning. A couple of that jumped out at me. . .

Moving Beyond One Trick Single Search

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Students aren't the only ones who need to use search engines to get their work done. Most cubicle dwellers these days need to sharpen their search skills and Joyce has some good advice and resources. Check out her Categorized Search Toolkit with links to tons of search engines and videos on running searches. (Here's another great list of search resources and an excellent post from Tony Karrer on doing better searches. And here are some Google lesson plans on search to check out).

Also don't miss Google Wonder Wheel. It's a search option that allows you to  display Google search results in a mind-mapped sort of visualization that makes it easier to see relationships and drill down into related terms. Very cool, but you may need to check it out to see what I mean. (For more visual search engines, check out this post on 4 options)

Joyce also describes some of the strategies she uses to support her learners' search efforts that I think translate well to the workplace. For example, she sets up Google Customized searches to query targeted sites and address specific needs.This could be set up  to search key best practice resources or for social searches of Twitter, blogs, and other resources related to company or occupational keywords.

While we're on the subject of search, she also teaches students about some people-finder search engines to assess and possibly address their digital footprint and online "personal brand." This is something many workers need to learn how to do and should be part of any organization's orientation training, I'd argue.

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Personal Information Portals

I firmly believe that one of our developing roles in the learning world is that of digital curator. There is just so much information and people need help in identifying good sources and pulling it all together, something librarians do very well.

Joyce helps students develop "personal information portals" using tools like iGoogle PageFlakes and NetVibes. These are simply feed aggregators that can be customized to include RSS feeds to blogs, news feeds, videos, etc. related to particular topics. I think of them as "dashboards" for collecting information on a particular area of interest into a single page that is automatically updated.

In the work world, this means that we can create customized pages with RSS feeds related to any topics we want. Picture, for example,  a "leadership" information portal with the feeds for key leadership blogs and resources embedded into the page. Or a "management" portal that includes great supervisory/management feeds. These can be shared with others via email, IM, etc. Here's an example of a UK Hospital Management Page--note that there are tabs for different departments. And here's another example for university staff to keep up-to-date on leadership issues. Note that these can be just one page in a larger personal information portal that workers could set up for themselves.

Related to this idea, I've been using Delicious to support many of my clients, setting up tags for various projects and continuing to add to the resources even after my work has finished. It takes me less than a second to add the project tag and is a great way for me to continue to add value and support learning long after I've gone. And for those who use PageFlakes, Netvibes or iGoogle, subscribing to the Delicious tag feed puts these resources right into their own personal information portal.

Telling Digital Stories

Increasingly we are seeing that digital story-telling is a powerful strategy for learning. As instructional designers we can use stories to illustrate key points, especially in designing e-learning. Storytelling is also a good way for learners to process and reflect on learning, particularly in support of reflective practice and communities of practice. Stories also help us to remember things. Joyce has a nice library of digital story-telling resources that could be used in a work setting. Alec Couros also has some resources that he got from his Twitter network.

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Wikify Your Handouts

This is a strategy that I've been using for most of the courses and workshops I do--putting all of my "handouts" into a wiki. Actually, my wiki IS the handout. It's the easiest way for me to share links, videos, photos, documents, etc. related to my topic. I don't waste paper and people can keep adding to it after we're done. I can also embed the Delicious tags that I set up for the training and continue to add after the learning event is finished.

Joyce does a version of this with the subject area pathfinders she's set up for students to explore different topics. Here's one I did recently to support a project on implementing social media to support a youth project. 

Many other interesting ideas in Joyce's article that could potentially be adapted for your situations. I strongly encourage giving it a read.

An "Admirable Use" Policy


Will Richardson has an excellent post, Don't, Don't, Don't vs. Do, Do, Do, in which he muses on "acceptable use" policies of social media in schools and how restrictive and anti-learning they can be. Having spent the past several months working with clients on integrating social media into their organizations, this post really resonated with me. I'm finding that while a few places embrace social media as an exciting opportunity, many more are worried about defining and restricting every possible misuse of social media they can imagine. And I have to say that I'm consistently amazed at how imaginative people are in identifying potential problems. Where's that creativity when they're thinking about using this stuff?

Anyway, Will suggests that instead of a 10-page list of "dont's," we need an "Admirable Use" policy that positively describes the ways in which we'd like to see people using social media for learning. The items he would include are:

“Do use our network to connect to other students and adults who share your passions with whom you can learn.”

“Do use our network to help your teachers find experts and other teachers from around the world.”

“Do use our network to publish your best work in text and multimedia for a global audience.”

“Do use our network to explore your own creativity and passions, to ask questions and seek answers from other teachers online.”

“Do use our network to download resources that you can use to remix and republish your own learning online.”

“Do use our network to collaborate with others to change the world in meaningful, positive ways.”

For companies and organizations, I'd modify this list and add a few other items, as follows:

  • Do use our network to connect to colleagues and peers with whom you can share your passions and learn together.
  • Do use our network to find experts both within and outside of our organization to gain knowledge, information and perspectives from around the world. Use our network to reach outside of your normal geographic and interest groups to connect with people in a variety of disciplines and from a range of cultures. 
  • Do use our network to publish and share your best thinking and ideas. Seek out feedback and opportunities to refine your thinking. Use multimedia (visualizations, video, audio) to further explore and process your thinking.
  • Do use our network to explore your own creativity and passions, to ask questions and seek answers from other peers and colleagues online. We know that creativity at work results from exploring a variety of questions and answers across disciplines and we support your ability to do this.
  • Do use our network to download resources that you can re-use and remix or that will improve your productivity and ability to collaborate with others.
  • Do use our network to track trends and to listen to what people are saying about our industry, your profession, our customers and key problems and issues facing the people with whom we work.
  • Do use our network to identify problems and to respond to customer issues and complaints using the same standards of professionalism and courtesy you bring to your daily work. We trust you to use phones and email and to conduct yourself professionally in face-to-face meetings, so we know you will do the same in your social networking contacts.
  • Do use our network to collaborate with others--both within and outside of our organization--to change the world in meaningful and positive ways.

What do you think? Would you add others to the list?

Flickr photo via Luc Legay

"Fill the Gap": A Flickr Learning Activity?

Through a really excellent article about how the Smithsonian is embracing social media, I ran across their "Fill the Gap" project, in which they used Flickr to engage the public in finding a piece of art from their collection to "fill the gap" to be left by a painting that will go into storage.

Fill the Gap

This also seems like a really fun learning and community-building strategy to me. In a factory, take a picture of machinery that's broken or that needs improvement and then post it on Flickr for comment and feedback. You could also use YouTube or Vimeo to upload a recorded process or activity to ask for the same thing--"what's wrong with this" or "what could we do differently?" A series of these would be fun, too, related to a similar theme sent out over the course of several days or weeks.

I like the visual aspect, the ability to engage the community and the various possibilities here.

How could you adapt this for a learning activity or project you're working on?

Forget the Kids--It's the Adults Online Who Need Critical Thinking Skills

Stephen Downes points to a column by Larry Magid on the need for today's young people to develop critical thinking skills that will help them better evaluate what they read online. In it, Magid talks about the fact that in the old days" of mass media we had "trusted" news sources that we could generally rely on for the "truth." With the proliferation of media in the Internet age, this has changed. As a result, he says:

Today's media environment provides an opportunity--and responsibility--for parents and schools to teach critical thinking. Not only must young people learn to "consider the source" of what they take in but also think critically about what they post in a world where just about every young person is now potentially an author, photographer, and videographer. Kids--who may never even know who Walter Cronkite was--need to have a miniature version of him inside their head by asking questions such as "Is this true?" and "How do I know it's true?." And when they're about to post they need to think carefully before they broadcast their own versions of "the way it is."

I find articles like this to be pompous in the extreme. They are condescending to kids and dangerous for adults.  They lull us into thinking that somehow we have learned to think critically about online content, despite the fact that we were the ones who grew up in an era when news and information from "trusted" sources was not questioned and therefore we never learned the fine art of skepticism. Meanwhile, it's our young people who are growing up in a world where it's clear that you need to question everything, and absorbing the lessons that go with that experience as they grow.

I've been on the receiving end of countless emails from adults who send me the latest urban legend as though it were truth. Never received one from a young person.  Most kids I know would check out that urban legend at Snopes before sending it on, while most adults don't even know what Snopes is. 

Despite the fact that only 5% of sexual abuse victims are abused by a stranger, it's the adults who are the frantic victims of "stranger danger" thinking, fueled by Internet and TV stories that make it sound like MySpace is more dangerous than your "trusted" neighbor.

It's kids who recognize that you can Photoshop a picture to look like "truth," in part because they've actually done it themselves. They also know that you can do a fake Facebook page, write a false Wikipedia entry or say whatever you want in a blog post--again, because they've done these things or seen them done by someone else. 

If anyone needs training in critical thinking on the Internet, it's the adults who are still living in a world where media is something they consume unquestioningly because they've never had the experience of making it themselves. It's the adults who were raised on "authorities" and "experts," in a monocultural world where many subcultures remained hidden from view and therefore assumptions about "truth" and "fact" were not questioned. 

Our young people, on the other hand, are growing up in a world that's more transparent, where the web of links that we're developing helps them find the more complicated "truths" that underlie what we've always seen as "fact." Young people are the ones who see that transparency is the new objectivity because they have grown up Googling their way to source documents and "smoking guns." They relish disproving and questioning facts, like young people always have, but for once, they actually have tools at their finger tips that allow them to do it easily and at will.

I'm not saying that youth don't need to be critical thinkers or that there aren't areas where they could further develop their skills.  What I am saying, though, is that I'm not sure that it's their lack of critical thinking that's the issue. As they say on airplanes, put on your own oxygen mask before helping the person next to you. I think that before we start preaching to kids that they need to develop their critical thinking, we need to take a good hard look in the mirror at ourselves.

Some Links for Creating and Managing Your Own LinkedIn Group

I had to pull together some resources on using LinkedIn's Groups feature for a client, so thought it might be helpful to post the links here. These are more geared toward starting and running your own group, as opposed to finding and joining an existing group.

Features of LinkedIn Groups include:

  • Group home page: A private space for your members on LinkedIn.
  • Discussion forums: Simple discussion spaces for you and your members. (You can turn discussions off in your management control panel if you like)
  • Enhanced roster: Searchable list of group members.
  • Digest emails: Daily or weekly digests of new discussion topics, which your members may choose to receive. 
  • RSS News Feeds--Managers can  create customs news feeds by adding an RSS feed, an Atom feed, or just a Web site URL.

Anyone can start a LinkedIn Group. You just need to have a free LinkedIn account. Check out the LinkedIn Superguide if you're new to LinkedIn and need to get yourself set up.

Once you have your account, here are some resources for creating and managing your Group(s)

KeyHubs and Google Wave Are Looking Interesting

A few things that have popped up recently that have me excited to explore further:

KeyHubs for Mapping Informal Networks
Via a Delicious save from Beth Kanter, I found this article on mapping networks--an interesting read in itself. It led me to Keyhubs, which lets you map the informal networks that lie behind your formal org chart. The case studies show some interesting examples. It appears to evaluate networks based on who people trust, who they go to for advice and who they socialize with. 

I could see using this as a tool to help plan for social networks within your organization--finding out ahead of time, for example, who your key influencers might be so that you might work with them ahead of time to support the learning community. You could also use it to analyze your existing networks, see where there might be gaps in sharing and connection, then plan for and evaluate the success of some interventions to grow the network.

Google Wave
Although it won't be ready until later this year, Google Wave looks REALLY interesting. According to Mashable, Google Wave is

. . . a hybrid of email, web chat, IM, and project management software. It features the ability to replay conversations because it records the entire sequence of communication, character by character. Because of this, discussions are also live in Google Wave: you will see your friends type character-by-character.

The features don’t stop there, either. Google Wave also supports the ability to drag attachments from your desktop into Google Wave. It loads that file and sends it immediately to anyone in the conversation. It’s also embeddable, so you can embed Google Wave conversations on any blog.

. . . it looks very similar to a Gmail (Gmail reviews) inbox, except it’s more focused on your contacts, whose faces you can see in your contacts sidebar on the left. As for conversations, well, it’s a bit different than anything we’ve seen before. You can reply and add your thoughts anywhere within a message. Communication within Google Wave is completely shared.

The key to it all is the faster line of communication. Attaching documents, like you do in email, is unnecessary in Google Wave. Real-time conversations and collaboration make it an ideal tool for business teams as well. Imagine an entire office having Google Wave open to quickly share and receive files. It combines some of people’s favorite aspects of many different web communication tools.


It looks to me like this could be a really RICH way to develop a collaborative learning environment that combines the best parts of synchronous and asynchronous communication. What is also interesing is that you can record the evolution of the wave, so it looks like you'll be able to see how things develop over time. And the embedabble aspect also looks promising--I'm picturing a blog or a wiki  to pull together related waves.

Of course, we're relying on descriptions at this point, but I've signed up to be notified when they go live. I'm very curious to see where this goes.

UPDATE--Looks like Mashable has posted a Complete Guide to Google Wave.

Some Resources for Accessible Learning

In using social media tools for learning (or anything else), one thing I think we often forget is the issue of accessibility. And by that, I don't mean in terms of issues like having access to a computer or broadband, although those are issues as well.

Currently I'm working with two different clients who work with individuals with disabilities and one of the things we're grappling with is how accessible these tools are. For many of their consumers, web-based technologies have been a God-send that has helped them access information, resources and communities of support  they never would have dreamed possible a few years ago. Opportunities for teleworking, online learning and self-employment have also exploded.

But for some people, especially those with visual or cognitive impairments (including brain injury and learning disabilities), social media and the Web can be a mixed bag. One one project, for example, we've had problems with one of our team members, who is blind, being able to use our group wiki with JAWS, a tool that many people with visual impairments use to surf the web. I've also heard some individuals from the brain injury community complaining about use of Flash and how difficult it is to navigate through some sites. And let's not forget the large numbers of people who have learning disabilities.

This has all been a real eye-opener for me, so I've been doing some research into accessibility issues and wanted to share a few resources.

  • Accessify--News, tools, etc. related to accessibility. Shows you how to do things like easy closed-captioning for YouTube videos, as well as providing some useful tools for development.
  • TARGET Center Discovery Series--a whole series of webinars on issues such as making accessible PDF files and emails with file attachments. Also a bunch of webinars on ergonomics and the home office.

I'm still learning a lot myself, so if this is something you have experience in, I would love to get your feedback and links to the resources you use and find to be helpful.

Your Guide to Job Search and Personal Branding on Twitter

Twitter--the 140 character social networking site--is becoming increasingly useful for job seekers. It doesn't work for everyone, of course, but it can certainly turbo-charge your networking, a key strategy for successful job hunting. It can also be an effective part of your personal branding campaign.

Here, then, is a (somewhat) definitive link guide to getting a new job (or losing your current one) through Tweeting. (I put this together for a client, so thought it would be nice to share).

Getting Started on Twitter--If you're new to Twitter. . .

Twitter Skills & Culture--You'd think it would be easy to type 140 characters and go, but like all social networks, Twitter has a culture that requires some skill to navigate. Ignore this section at your own risk.

Pimp Your Profile--Think of your Twitter profile as your "digital interview suit." First impressions count.

Twitter for Job Search--The nitty gritty of job searching on Twitter.

People and Sites to Follow

Job Search Tips and Tools

Case Studies

Twitter Brand Building--The Twitter job search is also about building your online brand.

Twitter Fails--Twitter isn't rocket science. These mistakes can be avoided with a little forethought.

Evaluating Contributions to a Social Network

As we incorporate social networking tools into learning, I know that some of us are thinking about how to encourage and evaluate meaningful contributions to and participation in those networks.  Dave Duarte's list of 20 Ways to Evaluate Contributions to a Social Network seems like a good start. Many of these items are open to further discussion (i.e., what's a "well-structured argument" look like?), but in those conversations, you can arrive at additional insights and ideas for thinking about how people are contributing.

You could also easily set up a Social Network Challenge (along the lines of the Comment Challenge), using some of these ideas. I could see, for example, doing a week-long challenge that involved the following tasks.

  • Pose a question to the group
  • Build on the ideas of another in the network.
  • Tell a story
  • Make a recommendation
  • Post a "Top 10" list
  • Offer help or answer a question for another person in the network
  • Use a graphic to illustrate an idea

This would encourage the most valuable social networking behaviors in a way that's more fun than simply posting a list of "Guidelines for Participation." It also makes more sense to teach and encourage these behaviors before plunging into evaluating them.

What do you think of this list? Have you been evaluating contributions to social networks? How have you been doing it? What have the results been?

Working with the Many Little Hurdles to Social Media Adoption

Tim Davies has written an excellent post listing 50 hurdles to open government that, from what I've seen, applies to both the public and private sector. What's helpful is that he's breaking down a large problem into a series of smaller issues. He divides the hurdles into 7 types:

  • Internet Access
  • Office Technology
  • Systems and Procedures
  • Policy and Guidance
  • Organizational Culture
  • Basic Technical Skills
  • Leadership and Management

He's now asking for strategies to overcome each hurdle.

Like Tim, I've been doing a lot of work lately with State and local governments and at every turn, have been stymied by many of these barriers to social media adoption. Many of these issues are interrelated and an impact on one or two could have profound implications for several others. For example, Tim's section on Internet Access lists the different ways in which sites are blocked and filtered at work sites. If management saw access to social media as a priority and indicated to the IT department that access should not be blocked, most of the items on this list would go away.

Most of these hurdles are really a result of management attitudes and priorities. In my experience, in organizations where social media isn't catching on it's a result of one of two issues. Either management does not understand the possibilities and benefits of social media or they are actively hostile toward social media (usually due to ignorance). The hostile types can be further divided into those who see social media as a "time waster" and those who've allowed IT to convince them that the entire system will be brought down if you let people access access YouTube. In both cases, these are people who are operating out of fear.

Recognizing that we are dealing with two different states of mind--ignorance and fear--can help us better explore the best strategies for overcoming the hurdles.

If management simply does not understand what is possible and how to get there, then this is a simple issue of education. On one current project, I've had the pleasure of working with a manager who is open to social media but doesn't yet understand all that it can do for her. My task here has been to listen to the issues and problems that she's facing in accomplishing her work and then to suggest how social media could help her. I make her aware of the possibilities and then she can look at what she needs to do to address existing barriers (such as Internet access, etc.). In this circumstance, Tim's list actually gives me a good checklist to use for making sure that she's covered all her bases in terms of the challenges her staff may be facing in implementing social media.

Those who are acting out of fear are a little more difficult to deal with. In fact, I started to write more about this and realized that it really requires a separate post. So for now,  take a look at Tim's list and drop him a comment on your ideas about how to address some of these hurdles. In my next post, I'll talk more about how I've been working with fearful management.