Listening To Those Who Loathe Technology

itunesMartin Krzywinski’s photostream

I have had the privilege of working with many people who would consider themselves digital refugees. A digital refugee doesn’t care to know an iTune from an iGoogle and may demonstrate animated disdain for an answer that includes the phrase, “Oh that’s easy!” from the digital zealot who clicks the mouse button thirty-one  times to complete the “simple” task.  Digital refugees are sometimes frightened, threatened and/or  alienated by technology and they usually resist the prospect of using a computing or technology tool.

People who are ambivalent about technology have a lot to teach us. They are the barometer for which we should measure our assumptions for digital tools that are reputed to be intuitive and web environments that boast a seamless interface.

Digital refugees snag considerable  judgement both professionally and personally for not being riveted by the latest technology gizmo that frequently squanders our precious time with the promise of maximized efficiency. The question they often pose is, “Why would I want to do that?” A reasonable question that is frequently answered in condescending jingles about strategic plans or “enterprise value added deliverables” (sound familiar?). When I  expend the energy to listen to the opinions of one who is disinterested with technology I am often challenged by their insightful perceptions and the conversation usually becomes much more extraordinary than just merely discussing the tool. Questions such as, “What matters to you? What is an expert? What does it mean to learn?” often permeate the dialogue and these foundational ideals not only become the central inquiry but also form the neutral zone with which we can explore the purposeful use of technology.  When we don’t provide the environment for critical opinions to be heard about technology we have to readjust our notion of just who is the digital refugee in that situation. A humble reminder that technology does not alienate individuals – people do.

Traversing The Twitter Torrent


jmilles’ photostream

Following certain people on Twitter is like attending a department meeting in which one person who particularly adores the sound of their own voice talks incessantly about every agenda item effectively aggravating their colleagues to passive fits of nausea. You know what I talking about.

After twenty minutes of this relentless pontification you begin to imagine medieval torture devices that are more humane than sitting for one more minute  through this meeting. That’s how Twitter felt for me this week. I chose to follow two respected innovators in the field of technology and one person sent more than sixty Tweets a day about every incidental topic on the Net. Want to know how to open a wine bottle with a shoe? Happy National Toilet Day? Who cares? I was expecting to receive Tweets specifically about technology innovations not random quirky trivia links that I could likely find myself through Stumble. This led me to suspect that one of these prominent Tweeters has Tweet Serfs who’s mission is to send out a Tweet every few minutes or else risk being banished from The Slick Technology Superstar Kingdom. Today I will stop following all those people who I suspect have Tweet Serfs and limit my Tweet Deck to those who recognize quality over quantity. My advice is to boldly filter your tweets or drown in the drone of superfluous intelligence.

How do you promote learning in the workplace?

learntrendsI am looking forward to participating in this conference as it may broaden my understanding of informal learning and its role in the tug of war between immediate deadlines and knowledge/skill development in the workplace.  It was an online conference such as this (Work Literacy Web 2.0 For Professionals) that helped me take the leap forward in actively using a variety of social media tools to not only support my own learning but also promote these tools among my colleagues and clients. I’ve been reading Tony Karrer’s blog for a year and he consistently provides a challenging spectrum of insights. Check it out!

Do Half Baked Ideas Belong At Conferences?

training’s photostream

I estimate that I spent about ten hours listening to presentations last week at ELearn 2009. I became increasingly frustrated with the structure of this conference when I realized that I would be facing four days of traditional fifteen minute lectures.

Is this the optimal way to share ideas and expertise? Given the collective ingenuity of an estimated four hundred attendees the 15 minute lecture format seemed like an obsolete approach. With the  plethora of networking and communication tools available to us surely we can break out of conventional constructs of transmitting knowledge and experiment with these tools to widen our understanding of any given topic.  I attempted to do this with my presentation and invited members to share their ideas and insights before my scheduled presentation time ( I was initially uneasy with my invitation. What if people thought my presentation was ‘half baked’ and didn’t feel it was their responsibility to help me organize my ideas? What if people thought this wasn’t legitimate knowledge because I was just revealing some reflections and assumptions? What if someone deleted my wiki pages or severely criticized my ideas?What furtive conference rules was I breaking? What did I have to lose? So I extended the invitation twice on the conference Twitter site. One person added to the presentation. I’m not sure why this is and  I didn’t have any stats to include how many people visited the site but I was surprised once again that I didn’t receive more feedback. This proves to me once again that rapport=adoption. If I specifically invited people who I had met at the conference and asked them to add to the presentation I may have received more contributions. Will I attend a conference such as this again? It will depend on my objectives. If I need to establish my professional identity in an international venue then I will consider it. If I need to actually learn something new about technology innovations and proven adaption practices then I will  look for smaller venues and more interactive opportunities to accomplish this objective.

Praise and Pans for E-Learn Conference 2009

elearn2I just finished returning from the week long E-Learn 2009 in Vancouver. This was my first multi-institution, international conference and I experienced a few disappointments and surprises.   Most of the presentations I attended were traditional lecture style speeches using PowerPoint. The information was interesting for the most part but the delivery of this knowledge struck me as bone dry. Many people talked about constructivist knowledge building but the communication style of sharing these ideas was traditional lecture style transmission. Augh! In an effort to stay engaged with the speaker and the material I would use Twitter to send messages about key points, additional info, or pose questions. The ELearn Twitter channel was moderately active but not what you would expect from approximately four hundred attendees all involved in promoting technology tools.

The presentations that were very interesting and the most engaging included:

– all of the Round Table discussions

The Missing Link by Dina Kurzwell, Uniformed Services, Univ. of the Health Sciences, USA

Dina discussed the identity of instructional designers and the need for these experts to be more involved in the research process with the professors.

Keynote Speaker: John Bowermaster  Using Adventure and the Internet For Environmental and Global Education

John showed us not only just how boring our lives are but how to engage society in issues concerning the environment and climate change through personal narratives.

-Adventure Learning 2.0 Aaron Doering  and Charles Miller University of Minnesota

These guys made a very slick presentation about their research in the northern Canada. Check out more at

-Creating Technology Awareness Among Staff and Faculty Colin Elliott, Athabasca University

The only speaker I saw that did not use a typical presentation software to illustrate his understandings. Bravo!!! Colin used Prezi a non-linear online presentation software application. A perfect balance of practical and theoretical insights.

Boring Tools vs Boring Instructors

I just finished reading this from Michele Martin’s blog:

“As adults we look at an empty cardboard box and see it as a storage device. Somewhere to put ‘stuff’. As children we looked at that same cardboard box and saw a plane. A car. A train. An adventure waiting to happen. What happened to our own creativity? It seems like we get confronted by a ‘virtual learning environment’ and think that’s enough. The learning will happen regardless of the effort we put into it. Wrong! So, so wrong! When eLearning works, it’s an amazing, interesting, vibrant, evolving, engaging, rich space. When it’s just a shell. A place to download PowerPoints… boy oh boy is it a sad bag.  Sarah Horrigan

One of the teaching patterns I observe again and again is the mundane use of dynamic technology tools. I can’t believe I am defending PowerPoint but one of the  reasons there is a backlash against PowerPoint is because presenters have chosen to replicate traditional handouts in PowerPoint slides when there are so many other features that could make this tool an interactive engaging communication tool. For example how many people have ever used the pointer options in slideshow mode to emphasize a statement or an illustration? It’s a basic option that can be easily activated in slideshow mode but I rarely see is used. We adopt the same monotonous patterns when using learning management systems to distribute course materials or communicate with students. Unprecedented commitments of money and time are wasted in creating repositories of resources in which the control of content is managed by the instructor. This reinforces the antiquated expression of learning as a passive activity of consumption rather than an interactive accountable construction of ideas and perspectives.

The Inevitable Beat of Life

Theory U, by Otto Scharmer

Theory U, by Otto Scharmer

I didn’t get the relevance of blogging. I initially judged it as a narcissistic pursuit for socially challenged people. Then I read a blog entry by Scott Leslie that resonated with me. He described an insightful model of change that reflected the challenges and cravings I faced when seeking to learn and discover new directions and broader perspectives. Change, change, change. This is the inevitable beat in life and the way in which we interact with change is what makes understanding this process fascinating. After regularly reading a few blogs I eventually started one of my own about photography. A year later I am prodding myself to go a little deeper with my public reflections about learning. Let’s see what happens.