If enterprise social networks might help us remake organizational learning, what is our pedagogy?

In Why Start with Pedagogy 4 Good Reasons, 4 Good Solutions, Cathy Davidson writes: “If your goal is equality in a world where inequality is structural and violent and pervasive, you can at least start with your classroom as a place in which to model a better way...Be an activist in the realm where you have control. You can change to a pedagogy of liberation today.”

This past week was a big week of reminders about structural inequality in the U.S. Although Davidson’s post appeared as many of these reminders were unfolding I don’t believe it was timed as a response to any recent events. My sense is that it is part of her on-going response to just…what is.

But her call to be an activist, to exercise influence in situations where you have influence, is an appealing point of reflection at this particular point of time. How might we nudge toward inclusiveness when we design, lead, facilitate or moderate the spaces in which we learn? Formal classrooms are one. Another, for me, is the space defined by the boundaries of an organization’s enterprise social network (ESN). I see ESNs as a way to remake organizational learning.

What is our pedagogy of liberation for the ESN case?

Davidson’s post describes four effective techniques for modeling inclusiveness in the classroom. Each is a great example of translating vision and intention into action and provides inspiration for making similar translations for the ESN case.

Among the four techniques I particularly love “everyone raise your hand,” which resets the norm for in-class discussion. A question gets asked by the instructor. Everyone must raise their hand. Someone is called on to comment or answer. If they don’t have a comment or answer they say “I don’t have an answer, but I’d like to hear what [names another person] has to say.” And the question is passed forward. The point: You establish a culture where everyone is important enough to say what they have to say, whatever that is.

“Everyone raise your hand” is a great example of a designed nudge. And one with an intention of nudging us toward inclusiveness, to ensuring that we make effort to hear diverse voices.

The ESN case, of course, differs from a physical classroom. Maha Bali’s post Inevitable Exclusion – symbols, hashtags and networked spaces puts a finger on some of the critical challenges that arise when we start to think about inclusion in networked environments. Especially in large, open networked environments. Some challenges have to do with the affordances of social media technology. I can raise my hand on Twitter, but unless I’m using the proper hashtag no one in the classroom may know I am there. The classroom may not even be on Twitter.

Many other challenges exist and, as her blog headline suggestions, her point is that exclusion is inevitable. But inevitable exclusion is different from intentional exclusion.

Let me quote from Maha’s last two paragraphs directly. It’s a great summary of the dilemma and the mindset that will help us lead through the dilemma:

“But all this to say that… exclusion in real life and social media is inevitable. It’s not because facilitators of a space don’t try to be inclusive; it is not because participants are intentionally excluding others… it just is. Some people will speak out about ways it is glaring and can be overcome and that’s wonderful. Others will lurk. Others will leave. Others will say bad things about you behind your back. It’s inevitable. As Dave Cormier once said, every “us” is “not them”.

And that’s OK. As long as we’re not intentionally ostracizing people for no reason. As long as we’re doing our thing and trying to be open (and we don’t always have to be open; it’s OK to sometimes want to be with our friends!)”

So back to my question. How might we nudge toward inclusiveness when we design, lead, facilitate or moderate ESNs as organizational learning environments? What is our pedagogy of liberation?

For ESNs we make design choices about access (who is in/out), what functional capabilities are available and how we relate to each other in virtual groups, communities and networks. And as community managers we facilitate within the boundaries defined by those design choices.

Whether we admit it our not – we are present in the design. We are also present in the way in which we facilitate activities. And whether we admit it our not, this presence is an expression of our philosophy, our assumptions about what the ESN should “be.”

I’d like us to strive to make ESNs more inclusive by intention. To facilitate a culture where everyone is seen as important enough to say what they have to say, even if it’s just “I’d like to hear what someone else has to say.” We need a pedagogy for that.

Proto. Type.

So rather than over-thinking, I’ve tried to opt for do-ing. Small steps. But msloc430.net is up.

I let CogDog be the guide, set up the syndicated category hierarchy, installed the FeedWordPress plugin and let it rip. Bingo. Syn-dication.

Really this is just messing around. But lately I’m beginning to understand the value of iterating – especially if you have some vision of where you ultimately want to be. A good vision informs the messing around, and the messing around informs the vision.

Christina Hendricks exemplifies this, and shares a win in her post I made discussions on WordPress! It is “doing out loud” – the next step beyond thinking or working out loud. Each of these out-louds is valuable but my personal interest is in pushing myself more to do-out-loud.

Next steps for my proto-type site is to mess around more with slicing the syndication into logical streams. For this, again, CogDog provides a clear path and great advice. Very interested in experimenting more about the techniques to do this with the FeedWordPress plugin. And then I think I’ll feel ok to start to look at templates…something that speaks to my preference for clean, readable, visually-appealing design but doesn’t tax my limited (i.e., nonexistent) skills for coding/customizing.

Should have a good amount of time to mess with this over the coming weeks.

(Jeff Merrell photo Bogota, 2011)

Designing for open #TWP15

I want to attempt to address two questions posed as prompts for week 1 of Teaching with WordPress:

  • What can you do in the context of open that you couldn’t do before?
  • What’s your biggest challenge in designing for open?

Both of those questions meet me right where I am at, at this moment in time. I am just completing teaching the second of two sections of MSLOC 430 – Creating and Sharing Knowledge, a course that attempts to focus on innovative ways in which organizations might utilize enterprise social networks (ESNs). This past year I experimented with popping the lid off of the course and opening it up a wee bit – first by attempting to run a six-week “open” subset of the course in parallel with my on-campus course and more recently by running a working-out-loud week in conjunction with the course.

I now have a little space to decide (and design), what next? I’ve set up a hosted WordPress site and new url under which I may begin to start hacking. In taking Alan Levine’s tour of connected courses and learning from Christina Hendricks’ experiences I am making note of a lot of really interesting ideas.

But I need to step back a bit and work out the “whats” – not only what can I do in the open, and what are the challenges, but what is the experience I want to create for the course.

I think the experience bit gets down to two key things. I’d like to create an environment where participants:

  • Personally experience what it is like to share – and potentially collaborate – in an open, networked space where “learning trumps perfection” (as one MSLOC graduate student put it).
  • Actively work on innovating ways in which we might use ESNs and social media to learn and to do the work that we do in organizations. For this part of the experience, I see things like working-out-loud, MOOCs, personal learning networks, open design, crowdsourcing, etc. as “inspirations.” They are models that have utility on their own – but they also provide sparks for new ideas and innovations.

I am sure I have blindspots on the possibilities presented by open pedagogy’s potential contributions to this “experience” vision. But at the moment, I see a few:

  • Experiential. The graduate course I teach consists of working professionals with an average 12 years experience primarily in corporate settings. Open courses, working in public – all of that is new territory for them. And valuable territory.
  • Continuity and permanence. The course focuses on an evolving field that will continue evolving. A public, open course site can be used as a persistent and continuously updated resource.
  • Contributions from the network. If the course environment is successful, it will provide a space where dozens of practitioners who share interest in the topics we cover can interact with “enrolled” students to contribute thinking, sharpen ideas and share experiences.
  • Potential – assessment from the network. I see a possibility where the network might assess ideas and innovations proposed by participants in the course (or vice versa – where students might assess ideas an innovations proposed by anyone).

The challenges? Two practical ones:

  • I teach in an environment where we use an ESN as the foundation of our learning environment. It is private to students in the graduate program – but it has been tremendously effective in providing a safe, well-designed space in which community members develop their ideas and their capability to work in a networked environment. We model the type of environment I describe above as the vision for the course. Students in each section of the course I teach (20-25 students) can share ideas in a private “class” space or openly with the full ESN community (about 225 students and faculty) – and they do. There is a tremendous lesson here in how privacy and trust and community can exist in layers, and how to nudge individuals from one layer to the next. Because of the care with which we lead the full ESN community, there are topics addressed and questions asked that I know would never make it out to a more public forum. I don’t want to change this. I just want to extend it. That’s a challenge.
  • Deciding on the architecture of the public course site. At this point, it seems like I have two distinct user/learner scenarios: 1) Open, general discourse and 2) idea generation and evaluation. Idea generation and evaluation is more process oriented; open discussion is more emergent.

Before I start hacking away in my new WordPress space, I think my head is trying to wrap around the implications of those two design challenges.

You don’t need to read this. I’m really just writing for myself.

My post Working Out Loud Week Lesson: Ignore the Network apparently struck a chord.

And what’s most interesting to me is that it did so among people whose work I truly admire. They’ve reminded me of what’s really important about this “out loud” process. And where working out loud may be falling short.

In the responses to my original post, my good friend Teresa Torres advises to write for yourself and “as an act of thinking.” To which Alan Levine appends, and as an act of remembering. Dave Cormier, Bruno Winck and Kristen Corpolongo – each exemplars of the same mindset – also were kind enough to share their personal insights on the value that comes from adopting it.

Alan points out that it is a challenge to advocate for this mindset – to write or create to think, and to remember – because the payoff is often far away. Kristen notes the “need to separate ourselves from the need for near-instant gratification or acknowledgement.”

A thought about all of this.

I am becoming more conscious of looking at the intersection of long-form and micro posts. We absolutely have to reflect to learn (Harold Jarche has been on this story forever). And it is encouraging to see bits of research linking reflection to job performance that help bring “reflection” into conversations about the workplace and learning.

So we absolutely have to have long-form – as an act of thinking, remembering and reflecting.

The micro-posts – whether via Twitter or status updates within an enterprise social network – play an important role in signalling to the larger network. Sometimes it is to share a snippet of an idea the emerges from our reflections (Torres does this exceptionally well as part of her blog routine). Or maybe it is pre-reflection thinking. Or work-in-progress updates that we just make visible.

I value the signalling capability of micro-posting. It connects me to people and to ideas. And often to some great long-form thinking. It is an incredibly important part of the overall value of connected thinking and learning.

Here’s what I have come to in my thinking about the current state of “working out loud” in the workplace context. What I  described above – the relationship between long-form reflection and micro-posts – is a blinding glimpse of the obvious to people who design or participate in cMOOCs and connected courses. I am not sure I believe the same for the current state of  working out loud.

The essential difference is in the deep appreciation for the value associated with reflection that I see associated with cMOOCs. I am afraid that if we miss making that deeper connection, then working-out-loud may not reach its transformational potential.