Let the dinosaurs die and the lurkers lurk. Insights on seeding adoption of enterprise social networks.

MSLOC 430 tweet chat

Learning & Organizational Change graduate students in the thick of a class sponsored Twitter chat.

On Thursday, Feb. 27, my class of graduate students from the Master of Science in Learning & Organizational Change program at Northwestern University organized a Twitter chat to explore the following: What tactics have proved effective in seeding the adoption of social collaboration technology, considering the variety of organizational and work contexts out there?

The intent was to pursue something more than generalized “best practices” – which are often a fiction, or which have been filtered to such a watery form as to become almost meaningless (i.e., “engage leadership support”). The class was trying to get closer to tactics and strategies that have more flavor, that get closer to the tacit know-how of practitioners who have lived through the process of social technology adoption and have come out with some success.

This line of inquiry led us to organize the Twitter chat. To prompt the discussion we focused on three general questions:

  • What roles (formal or informal) are important in seeding adoption?
  • Are there specific activities that users could be nudged to do – that start the momentum?
  • What are the trade-offs of “going big” vs. focusing on energetic early adopters?

The Twitter chat was an explicit effort to “thin the walls” of the classroom (to borrow a phrase from my ed tech network) – make them a bit more permeable by connecting students and practitioners directly, using common social media tools like Twitter. The result was a wide-ranging give-and-take with almost 40 participants (13 in the class). A cohort of experts from Change Agents Worldwide joined in, as did a number of practitioners and thought leaders from our close and extended network. The discussion covered many angles in answering these questions. Participants also shared links to a variety of great resources and thought leadership – all of which is recapped in the Storify of the event.

I’ve tried to synthesize some of the themes and interesting points below. But the full transcript is a gift that goes far beyond my recap.

Roles. Community manager roles (for “lift off”), champions, savvy social network tool users, and the support of leadership roles (for funding if nothing else) were noted. But more interesting were the informal “momentum builder” roles that emerge from people who are willing to experiment – the first followers.

The tweet from Bryce Williams drew an immediate reaction and, for me, pointed to a theme about the traits required in both the formal and informal roles: Part rebel, part trusted peer. Someone with social skills that bridge the online environment and the context of the workplace in which they are embedded.

The  Harold Jarche “let dinosaurs die a natural death” comment also drew commentary. I’ve heard this kind of thinking in the context of enterprise social networking from others as well – and have probably said it in class a few times. The more I reflect on it, the more I sense the push-back when people hear this is rooted in the knee-jerk approach to implementing change – i.e., that we control it from the top down or some central point outward and we must cascade our communications, activities etc. to make sure all are “changed.” That’s a delusion at best. Of course it is keenly important to pay attention to the edges – who lives at the margins, that we should be engaging? – but that’s a different issue than trying to convert the nonconvertible.

Activities. Much of the dialogue was around simple nudges. Get people to ask questions. And others to answer. Solve simple problems. Fill out profiles and share photos. Make the initial engagement authentic – rather than trying to force interaction.

There was also a good bit of dialogue around the theme of “lurkers’ being a positive role. “Lurking” – or just reading in an online community without responding – is actually seen as a very engaged activity; it is the heart of online social learning.

“Go big” vs. focus on energetic adopters. I commented during the chat that it seemed to be a blowout – no one thought “going big” was a good idea. But upon reading the full chat again, there are some nuances to the issue. You certainly have to think big. Or it may be a matter of timing – when to go big vs. “if.” But the chat did bring up a wide range of downsides that make going-big either wrong-headed at worst or risky at best.

In the end, the chat clearly pointed to the challenges of “implementing” – which all of its top-down, hierarchical implications – a change in work patterns and technology use that deliver value by being emergent and organic. Like all of the practitioners who participated in the chat, the key seems to be in understanding emergence and embracing it. Let the lurkers lurk. And the dinosaurs drift into history.

For more on the full chat experience, see two MSLOC 430 student blog posts reflecting on both the experience and the content of the chat:

Stanley FongEntering a brave new (knowledge) world | simpler ideas for a better life

Aditya Singh ChauhanEngagement Space: What drives engagement on Social Networking platforms?

Thanks to Aditya, as well, for the photo in this post.

How do you seed adoption of Enterprise 2.0/social business? #msloc430 Twitter Chat Feb. 27 8 pm CT

Coffee pie HiveThe course I am teaching this quarter (and next) for the Masters Program in Learning and Organizational Change at Northwestern University uses Enterprise 2.0/social business as a way to understand the role that technology plays in sharing and creating knowledge within organizations.

As we look at a variety of organizational cultures, business challenges and domains of work practice (e.g., marketing and sales, engineering, management functions, etc.) we find ourselves continuously scanning the work of thought leaders, bloggers and experienced practitioners to find clues to the following:

What tactics have proved effective in seeding the adoption of social collaboration technology, considering the variety of organizational and work contexts out there?

This is a slightly different approach than pursuing generalized “best practices” – which are often a fiction, or which have been filtered to such a watery form as to become almost meaningless (i.e., “engage leadership support”). We’re trying to get closer to tactics and strategies that have more flavor, that get closer to the tacit know-how of practitioners who have lived through the process of social technology adoption and have come out with some success.

Do you have stories to share in this area? Experiences? Insights? Recommended resources (bloggers, white papers, research, Twitter)? Share them with us. Comment here, or connect with us via the course Twitter hashtag: #msloc430.

And join us for an hour-long Twitter chat exploring this topic on Thursday, Feb. 27 from 8-9 PM Central Time (US). Hashtag: #msloc430

Teaching uncertainly #rhizo14


The topic for this past week in #rhizo14 was embracing uncertainty. A familiar topic in my work context. Kimberly Scott, the Director of the Master’s Program in Learning & Organizational Change (my professional home), openly tells graduate students to get used to playing in the ambiguity sandbox. We joke about adding a course to the curriculum: “Dealing with Ambiguity.” Not sure when it meets, or where. Deal with it.

So I thought I would address the topic by sharing more about activity – what I do, and have done – and less about thinking out loud. I am a big advocate of prototyping and experimenting – putting something out there to see what response it creates from the network, community, or organization. Prototypes are one way I deal with uncertainty.

Questions are another.

Refining my questions

The question I came to #rhizo14 with is this: What is teaching presence – when your instructional goal is to shift power?

I am refining that a bit. I am thinking about teaching presence in the context of open courses – or if not fully open, certainly more permeable. Courses where the traditionally defined “student” also engages actively with a larger network or community, and vice versa.

So now I have several related questions, starting with the assumption that teaching presence does make a positive contribution to learning in a course. And I see the course container as simply a contract among participants involving time and topic. I am starting with the Community of Inquiry (CoI) definition and elements of teaching presence as a scaffold for this investigation:

Teaching presence is ‘the design, facilitation, and direction of cognitive and social processes for the purpose of realizing personally meaningful and educationally worthwhile learning outcome.’ Garrison, D. R. (2011). E-Learning in the 21st Century: A Framework for Research and Practice. Taylor & Francis.

Garrison el al. also define three elements that contribute to the practice of establishing teaching presence: Instructional design and organization; facilitation; and direct instruction.

My revised questions:

  • Does the definition hold for open/permeable courses?
  • Do the three elements hold? If so, in what ways do the practices involved in each element need to change as you push further toward open-ness?

At the end of #rhizo14, I’ll synthesize some thoughts in a final blog post. The idea is to craft some ideas for new experiments in future courses or formal learning events.

In my experience: Teaching uncertainly

I have two sets of experiences in experimenting to share here: The course I teach for MSLOC and Exploring Personal Learning Networks: Practical Issues for Organizations (#xplrpln) the open learning event we held this past fall.

MSLOC 430. As I note in a #msloc430 class bloggers: Exploring networks, communities and knowledge, between January and June of each year I teach a course in which we explore technology and people and knowledge. The course is actually taught twice during that time period ( we are on 10-week quarters).  Every year I attempt to find ways in which the two class sessions can learn from each other, and from a growing network of alumni and practitioners who know us and this course.

This year I redesigned a blogging assignment. Students work with each other and with me to define a question (or two) on a topic of professional or academic interest that can draw, in part, from content or concepts we cover in the course. But the question must tap into their interests; not mine, or what they think is mine. They map out their own blogging path to explore the question (there is a minimum number of 4 posts required to meet the assignment) and they are encouraged to use the course hashtag on Twitter (#msloc430)

I had no idea where this was going to go. I still do not. But some early outcomes intrigue me.

Andee Weinfurter’s initial post exploring trust and relationships in online communities was grabbed – via Twitter – by Mariana Funes and integrated into a wonderful Storify: The interpersonal contract in cMOOCs. The Storify explores the interpersonal “contract” in both #rhizo14 and Cathy Davidson’s MOOC #FutureEd. Mariana writes this about Andee’s questions:

She asks wonderful ‘non-googlable’ questions as she sets out to blog for her course this semester. One of them speaks to this story as she wonders ‘How do individuals develop trust over technological platforms?’ A question I still ask myself over a year after the start of my own experiment in being an open educator and learner. [emphasis mine]

“A question I still ask myself…” is exactly where I am with many of the questions posed by bloggers in MSLOC 430. As well, the remainder of the Storify explores topics of deep interest to me.  Neither Andee nor I knew Mariana before this connection (I now follow her on Twitter – so yes, the rhizomes are spreading). Andee, I know, is finding value in these and other connections made through her blog post. But so am I. In this scenario, where is the teacher presence and where the learner? Or is this an example of a power-shift moment, when the roles of teacher/learner converge?

Andee’s is one example. We are only two weeks into it, with some students blogging out in the open on the web while others are blogging “semi-open” within our private online learning community of about 200 students and faculty (the setup we use is a cloud instance of Jive software ). I am inspired by the connections and random positive events that are beginning to occur.

Where will this lead? I honestly cannot predict. But I am treating the assignment as a prototype – as something that you put out into a user community, based on researching and observing and trying to understand latent needs. And when you put it out there, you need to watch and learn. That’s where I am at today.

Exploring Personal Learning Networks (#xplrpln). Earlier this year, Kimberly Scott and I facilitated a 5-week open, online seminar focusing on personal learning networks (PLNs). The question we asked to set the context for the course has no clear answer: Is it possible for PLNs to be fostered within organizations for mutual benefit – for both the individual and the organization?

This is the type of fuzzy-problem organizational question we use often in our graduate program. The experiment for us was to see how some of the problem-based-learning strategies we use in our courses translated into an open, connectivist-inspired event looking at this type of question. We also experimented by using only a Google+ Community, blogs, Twitter (including Twitter chats) and a virtual classroom tool for occasional video broadcasts.

We ended up with about 130 participants who signed on; between 40 and 50 were actively engaged throughout the 5 weeks. Much of the resulting participant content is curated on Scoop.it.

But if you also look at #xplrpln as a prototype or experiment, much of what we learned is captured in Helen Crump’s excellent blog post and comments deconstructing the event design and her experience in it: My footprint of emergent learning in exploring personal learning networks. In one of her comments, Helen writes:

…the learning experience was very powerful because at heart it posed a seemingly innocuous question, or ‘problem’, that could transcend a number of organizations/contexts. However, what transpired was a genuine realization amongst the participants that what we were actually discussing was an emerging phenomena and a very complex one at that, one that was essentially about the changing power dynamics between the individual and the organization. This was the unsettling /extremely emergent aspect of the seminar…

The “seemingly innocuous question” was a scenario we posed to the participants. Your chief executive has heard about PLNs and is excited about the potential advantage it might provide your organization. But the chief exec really knows very little about them, or what it might mean for the organization. You are invited to provide guidance in a one-hour meeting. What would you advise?

In our experience with #xplrpln, this scenario actually influenced the learning dynamic more than we anticipated (in a positive way). It was one of the more interesting bits we learned as designers and facilitators.

Kimberly and I also reflected a great deal on what would be the “right” amount of content to provide, without falling into the trap of having participants trying to figure out what is the hidden meaning behind things we might post (where there IS no hidden meaning). We debated and rewrote questions continuously before our weekly Twitter chats. We worked at trying to share our own authentic voices – in video, in blog posts and commentary – and our different points-of-view and interests.

But I am beginning to think the most important lesson I learned is that we both very honestly engaged in the entire event with this attitude: We have no idea how to best answer the questions we were posing.

photo credit: robonline via photopin cc

MSLOC430 Bloggers 01/28/2014

The following are three posts from students in my MSLOC 430 course. I’ve clipped the first paragraph or two; click on the links to read the full posts.

  • tags: msloc430blogs

    • This quarter, I’m taking a class on knowledge management.  As part of the class work, I’ll be sharing some thoughts on this blog (rather than start a new one).  In line with my interests I’ll be discussing this in the context of nonprofits; and in line with the spirit of this blog I will try to keep the ideas simple (or at least, simpler!).

      In our organizations (and lives), we encounter a great deal of knowledge.  It comes in many forms, and there are different ways to look at it.  Take the following story, which was first told by my friend Whit (and adapted with his permission):

  • tags: msloc430blogs

    • I have a picture framing the famous Margaret Mead quote “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world . . . Indeed it’s the only thing that ever has” hanging in my apartment. This quote serves as a constant reminder of the influence each individual holds in shaping their environments. When we think of how movements have historically evolved over time, the enormous amount of energy dedicated to creating results is all too clear. Martin Luther King, being an obvious (and relevant) example, faced an undertaking that ultimately cost him his life. The process of collaboration and influence in our society can be extremely daunting as one contemplates the countless hierarchies, rules, resource planning, emotional energy and other implications that make action so difficult.  However, the first and foremost problem in inspiring action is finding the support, the first follower, the human support base, to even attempt to do so…
  • tags: msloc430 blogging msloc430blogs

    • We’ve all been the newb many times—at school, at work or in any other group of people that existed before we joined it. Evidently, in the gaming community, “unlike a noob, a newb is someone who actually wants to get better” (thank you, Urban Dictionary, for the continued edification on matters of such great import). So let’s assume, for now, that at least a better half of us entering each new role has good intentions to learn and contribute to each group, team or organization we join…

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Rhizomatic moments #rhizo14

I have been a reflective lurker (well, hopefully reflective) in Dave Cormier’s #rhizo14 – not so much actively participating as trying to carve out some time at least once a week to scan through the goings-on and see what I can discover. Especially interested in the questions I posted about teacher presence, as noted in my introductory post.

As I drifted through a number of blog posts and tweets, two events caught my attention. And I am thinking a bit about the connection between them, my questions, and the challenges that Dave poses in his weekly prompts for Rhizo14 learners. Half-baked thinking for certain. I am trying to make sense here, and am doing so while paying less deep attention to the goings-on than I am comfortable with. But hey. This is my blog. Deal with it. :-)

Event 1

Maddie describes in a wonderful post (Tilling the Soil) her first-person experience of one of the more written about events of the week. Let me quote directly, because it’s such a great example of caring and commitment:

I am reading through blog posts that have sprung up after I posted this on the rhizo14 group on Facebook:

I find it ironic that people talk about their qualifications and researches and their ability to read and understand critical theory when that is not the aim of this uncourse at all. As long as everyone “gets” the generic meaning of it, all is well and we progress as a community. How everyone reaches to the end is immaterial. If you get the theory without reading it, you have cheated brilliantly.

Furthermore, I would like to assert my independence and state that I am not an academic and yet wish to be part of this uncourse. Does that make me “Un-qualified” to take it up? If we are to question the very foundation of the education system and try to change it so as to include one and all in a whole big community, then it shouldn’t matter whether I am a phd or a college drop out, should it? This is how a rhizome breaks.

Perhaps that was my way of unsettling the soil to make it healthy again for unrestrained growth.

Did I do it on purpose? No. Did I wish to make jabs at privileged people? No. Did I project such an outbreak? No. Did I want to make people uncomfortable? Probably yes. Perhaps to make them think and take charge. It started a discussion between academics and non academics or as my frainger Ary calls them pragmatists and theorists. It shook things up – the rhizomes multiplied and divided. It made some of us to stop and take notice of our actions and behaviours as academics, non-academics, pragmatists, wanna be academics, recovering academics etc. It was an opening of sorts to make people stop and spend some time to self assess and self re-mediate.

Jenny Mackness also recounts this event, using it to help define the messiness of Week 2. Jenny is a brilliant synthesizer of goings-on and I am shamelessly using her talent to my own benefit. (I am keeping track though, and take seriously repaying my lurker debts).

In her post where she reflects on the Maddie-moment I think she puts her finger on an important point regarding unlearning. She writes:

In my reflections on this week’s messiness and the possible causes for it – not that messiness per se is a bad thing in the learning process – I have wondered whether it is not so much ‘learning’ that we need to do in relation to this course, but ‘unlearning’… I have been wondering whether we need to unlearn our assumptions about communities and groups in relation to rhizomatic learning. Despite the fact that the course title is Rhizomatic Learning – the Community is the Curriculum – can we assume that rhizomatic learning equates to community and/or group learning? For me ‘network’ or something similar might work better.

Event 2

I know Tanya Lau  through open learning events like #rhizo14 and cross-commenting on our blogs. We both share a common set of interests around learning and organizations. She is part of my personal learning network, and we’ve been holding a bit of a sidebar conversation about #rhizo14 in Google+ in a community space to which several of us belong. Jan Webster captures one of the longer G+ conversation strings on her blog.

Tanya is the focal point of event 2. It begins with Kevin Hodgson’s (@dogtrax) brilliant “Steal this poem” intro post to Cormier’s challenge of week 1 to explore “cheating as learning.” Kevin recounts the full story in his follow up post,  A Stolen Poem Finds its Way Home and references Tanya’s gifted work. It’s poetic, visual and reflective all at once. She tells the story in her own post rhizo14: Stole that poem. But the payoff is this:

Hmmmm…so, uh, what’s the point?

Honestly? I have no freaking idea. I’m surfing here, just paying attention to what captures my attention, as I think about the question that I am using to filter my own learning during #rhizo14: What is teacher presence in rhizomatic learning?

Dave encourages us to be more comfortable with the contradictions of “enforcing independence.” And I am beginning to think – have thought for awhile, actually – that the capability we need to develop as educators is to recognize and call out those moments that help hit the reset button on “learning.” We need – as Helen Crump writes – “to not only encourage learners to pursue their passion, but to honour their unique experiences and to give them voice.”

And what that looks like is: Maddie tilling and Tanya stealing. And all of us unlearning a bit.