MSLOC 430: March 3, 2016 working-out-loud class session

On March 3 from 6 – 9 p.m. Central Time the 22 M.S. in Learning and Organizational Change graduate students in MSLOC 430 will be working out loud on Twitter during class (hashtag #msloc430).

This is week 9 of the 10-week quarter and teams of students are finishing up outlining and designing possible solutions to business case challenges that they’ve been working on during class for the past three weeks. The solutions must be based on some innovative use of enterprise social networking (ESN) technology.

We’ve looked for inspirations by examining a few innovative models of using networks to facilitate new ways of learning or doing work. These include models such as communities of practice; MOOCs and networked learning; personal learning networks; working out loud/narrating your work; crowdsourcing; open design and idea management; and more.

Tonight’s class (and the past couple of weeks) have been designed to push our thinking about the possibilities of ESNs. Not just what others have done with ESNs, but what we could do with ESNs.

Consider these as pre-prototype ideas. If we had the time to prototype them, we’re learn where our assumptions led us astray. But each would also help us learn more about what is possible with ESNs and undoubtedly point the way to something new and valuable.

So join us in this working-out-loud exploration. We’ll post more about the outcomes of this exercise at (where you can also read blog posts from about half the the class who have chosen to blog publicly).

And many thinks to the good folks at The Garage at Northwestern for letting us use one of their spaces for the March 3 class.

Post originally published on my Northwestern University NUSites blog

A new open experiment:

We’re officially live at

See this blog’s MSLOC 430 category for previous updates on work-in-progress and some history of the course I teach at the Master’s Program in Learning and Organizational Change at Northwestern University. My current experiment is the second iteration of trying to create an open section of the campus-based course.

Classes began on campus the first week of January,  I put a few final touches on and now we’re off and running. As usual, I have only a vague idea of where this will lead. But I really like the idea of evolving the open section of MSLOC 430 via a course domain hosted via Reclaim Hosting.

Ok. I actually have more of an idea of how things will evolve for the students enrolled in the on-campus course. I have less of an idea of how other open participation may evolve – how practitioners or learners outside of the formal course may choose to contribute.

Here are some highlights of where the design sits, today.

The course has two main work streams.

The first is an exploration of how enterprise social networking technology (ESNs) and social media impact work and learning within organizations.The “open” product of this exploration will be student blog posts, Twitter activity and social bookmarking via Diigo. Blog posts and Diigo bookmarks will be syndicated to A Twitter widget on the site will provide a look at the most recent activity via the #msloc430 hashtag.

The second work stream is to purposefully create some new, innovative model of working or learning that uses the capabilities of an ESN platform. The innovations will emerge from students examining case study situations that they bring to the course. The open product of this work stream will be an innovation brief published on at the very end of the on-campus course (mid-March).

I expect to see a slow but steady growth of student blog activity over the next several weeks. In part because we created formal activities with set deadlines.

I left it much more open for potential participants outside of the on-campus student group. A simple suggestion to join in the conversations through blogging, Twitter, etc. And perhaps help us review innovations at the end of the class session.

This is where I am really intrigued to see what emerges, organically. How MSLOC 430 evolves to be a connected course – and how it “connects” with learners outside of the on-campus student group.

Where will the energy take us?

Day 1 #wolweek reflections: Idea selection in a project-based innovation course

My goal for this year’s International Working-Out-Loud week is to make some headway on MSLOC 430, the course I will be co-teaching in January. Today’s workday ended up being dedicated elsewhere. But it ended on an interesting note.

We are a little more than 2 weeks away from the end of our academic quarter and closing in on the finish of a project-based course we teach at the Master’s Program in Learning & Organizational Change at Northwestern University. In this course we take 10 working weeks to use a design process to address some challenge faced by an organization. This quarter we collaborated with the YMCA, whose national headquarters are based nearby in Chicago.

Eleven graduate students were divided into three teams. They were briefed on the challenge by Kathy Kuras, Sr. Director of Organizational Change Management at Y USA, along with other Y leaders representing the national organization and several local Y branches. Essentially the challenge was to look at new opportunities to build off of an existing Y strength – its commitment to connecting with and having an impact on the communities it serves. Might there be new ways that the Y can foster community engagement among staff and members? I am oversimplifying the challenge a bit, but the essence is intact. The focus is community engagement and the scope includes both staff and members.

What I thought worth sharing here is what we’ve learned about the design process in a context such as this.

The teams spent about 5 weeks of class time doing discovery research to understand the environment at the local Y branches and different perspectives about “community” held by staff and members. At the end of the research phase, each team shared observations with our Y project-team collaborators to assess potential insights. All three teams shared the research base and the assessment of potential insights.

We then went into generating ideas. Separately – each team generated 10 possible “framed opportunities” that might turn into ideas worth piloting. In reality – most teams brainstormed many, many more ideas and then used various rubrics to narrow down their brainstormed list to 10 ideas. Most of the rubrics were variations of voting techniques – i.e., each team member had 50 votes to cast across up to 10 ideas, and could allocate votes more heavily to ideas for which they felt were particularly innovative or addressed an aspect of the challenge most effectively.

Three teams, 30 ideas. We presented them all to a panel of Y project collaborators, who rated each of the ideas on desirability and feasibility (feasibility to pilot at a local branch). The Y collaborators also identified at least one idea per team as that team’s “most innovative idea.”

That’s where we were last Wednesday.

From that day until today, the Y project team continued to assess the ideas and came back today with recommendations on which ideas they would like to see further developed in the last two weeks of the quarter. We went from 30 ideas to 8.

That’s the process. Let me share some insights related to the results.

First, we have a few advantages:

  • Our graduate students come from a wide range of professional backgrounds, resulting in us having a fairly diverse set of thinkers in each class and on each team.
  • As a general case, our graduate students have a knack for empathy. They are pretty good at putting themselves into the mindset of others in some organizational context (in this case, Y staff and members).
  • We are working with collaborators – the Y – who truly trust the design process and value experimentation.

But still – the results today follow the pattern with other projects:

  • Every one of the 30 ideas paved new ground. This is absolutely a testament (in my view) of the value of diverse minds, who share a common (professional) language, taking on a shared challenge. Diversity of the background of members of our student teams is vital – but so is a common appreciation and language for the subtleties of organizational and individual change (which is what we study).
  • 80% or more of the ideas where characterized as “things we could implement today.” Those 20% that were not were intended to be stretch ideas. What we continually find interesting about this result (which is typical of our projects) is that we do pretty rapid research. We don’t live with the targets of our change. We observe, interview, listen. I don’t know yet how best to parse this out – but this is definitely some combination of process and having people who are skilled at “organizational empathy.”





Re-habiting the working out loud habit: What I am working on this week #wolweek

It is International Working Out Loud week. Which is serendipitous, as it coincides with my usual routine of a) having a lot of half-baked ideas about how to tweak the course I teach that begins in January (#msloc430) and b) waiting until the last possible moment to put it all together.

So here we go again.

My goal this week is to bring closer to completion. The site is my first attempt to put out a centralized class blog that syndicates student blogs as well as other interested “open” participants – practitioners or students from outside my class who wish to contribute their thinking or work products.

The “work product” bit is something that I really want to address this week. In the course, students work on potential innovations for leveraging enterprise social networks (within organizations or extended organizations) to do work or work-related learning differently. After exploring different models of doing work or learning in networked environments – for example, crowdsourcing, personal learning networks, MOOCs, communities of practice – students think about combining and tweaking these models to create something new. For example: What would a model of learning look like that combined and crowdsourcing and personal learning networks?

The bit that I want to work on this week is defining a template or some recommendation on how we might describe these new models. What I’d love to end up with is a growing list of new ideas that integration different existing models of work and learning. But it should be more than just a list of combinations; it should define and describe a new “model” in a way that might be useful for practitioners who are interested in adopting it.

How much detail is best for that use case? And are there examples that use visual representations (as well as some text) that might be fit for this purpose?

Space to make ideas your own

Helen Crump caught my attention earlier today with her reflective post Literacy: Not a desk job, but an identity job. It’s a great story reminding us of the connections between literacy, identity, learning and teaching.

And then I learned there is more to the story.

Helen’s post was inspired by an image, shared as part of the #blimage blogging challenge begun by Steve Wheeler and members of his personal learning network (PLN). You send an image to a colleague and challenge them to write a learning-related blog post about it. Helen sent me the public-domain image below. Along with some wisdom: Don’t overthink it. Just go with it.


As random as Helen’s selection was, it actually is quite familiar to me. I live and work in Evanston, a city that shares a border with Chicago. Each sits on the shoreline of Lake Michigan. Every day this summer, I walk home along a path that follows the beaches and parks between my workplace – Northwestern University – and my home. The sight of sand fences and grasses similar to this are common. I know just enough to know that the intention behind both the fence and the grasses are sand dune or beach preservation. They are light-touch attempts to nudge natural forces to progress maybe a little quicker. The result is preservation of an important, resilient part of the water/shoreline system.

And what a great metaphor for pedagogy.

When thinking about how we design interventions to nudge learners to progress maybe a little quicker, there is something important about paying attention to the natural contours of the landscape and how we might combine low-tech tools with organic elements to find a productive collaboration.

The more I teach adult learners – an activity that is a combination of both design and facilitation – the more I appreciate the skills necessary to let learning just…emerge. The contours may be shaped a bit by fences and grasses, but the important stuff is what happens in emergent, organic form.

Here’s an example to illustrate what I mean. A student recently told me about a successful graduate-school course. What made it work for them was the design and facilitation: “There was space for us to take ideas and make them ours.” And by “space” they meant time. Each minute of the course was not packed with directive activity. Students had time to socialize, to explore, to diverge, converge and reflect as they discussed course topics either online or in person. And my sense is that behind this was not just time, but realistic problems to address and thoughtful questions to consider.

These, I am beginning to understand, are the subtle but powerful elements we have to shape the contours of learning: Time, realistic problems and great questions.

Addendum – Pix from my walk home today.