Thursday, March 31, 2011

My Practice Series

There is an interesting activity that takes place during the first 10 days of each month at CPsquare called My Practice Series. The idea for the series emerged during a conversation between John Smith and Sue Wolff. Sue was chatting with John about some of the interesting challenges in her own practice. They realized that, while there are many conversations and types of events at CPsquare, there really weren't many opportunities to give attention to individual practice and experience.

The series has been running for about 18 months now, and there have been some fascinating conversations. In fact, the practice of sharing a practice has emerged with some guidelines of its own. For example, it's human nature to jump in to offer advice. But that really isn't the point of this activity (unless the person in the hot seat asks for advice). Instead, if participants ask questions and make observations (much like an interview), they articulate what they are curious about, and at the same time this provides an opportunity for the individuals in the hot seat to reflect on their own practice. So it becomes more about discovering what participants are curious about, rather than predicting what they might be interested in.

I was honoured to be invited to share my practice this month April 1 - 10. My hosts, Lotte Krisper-Ullyett and LaDonna Coy, suggested I begin by posting a brief introduction -- "perhaps something about the path that’s brought you where you are or where you contemplate going". They also provided a bit of a template to offer some consistency from one My Practice session to the next. Here's what I wrote:

Sylvia's Practice

Job: I support leaders of several Communities of Practice, steward two communities for educational practitioners: SCoPE and ETUG, and coordinate online and on ground workshops, conferences, and a variety of other events.
Organisation: BCcampus
Location: Lac Le Jeune, British Columbia, Canada
Links: My mish mash profile

To be sharing my practice like this I feel that I should have a good story about how I came to do what I do, like maybe that I stood up in my grade 2 class alongside all the wanna-be nurses and fire fighters and and shouted "I want to be a community steward!" But none of my work life has been very well planned. Quite the opposite. My formula is this: I do what I find interesting and feels right at the time, get energized by people I meet along the way, take risks, and always have faith that if my current situation isn't keeping me on the edge of my seat then there is something new and exciting around the corner. And guess what? There IS always is something around the corner!

I started down the path of working with communities of practice (it's only in hindsight I know what to call them) through software research and development projects at Simon Fraser University. The first was in 1997 working with a group of teachers to integrate project-based learning into the curriculum using an online wiki-like platform called Zebu. As a fresh graduate student, escaping from my job in university administration where I was no longer sitting on the edge of my seat :-), I was handed a project called EEP (empowering educators program). So many of the elements and design principles that emerged through participation in EEP are still priorities in my world today: open sharing and reusing resources, reflective practice, teacher as researcher, participatory design, collaborative professional development, and distributed expertise. I will be forever grateful for the mentorship, trust, and wisdom of the two professors who took me under their wings. It not only resulted in a complete career path change, but also introduced me to new ways of working and what it really means to collaborate.

This story has sort of repeated itself a few times over the past 15 years. Around each corner I encountered new and exciting projects and connected with fantastic people who have had a profound influence on my work life.

Fast forward to today... Someone challenged me to write a bio in twitter-style 140 characters or less. This is what I came up with:

I am client services manager for BCcampus online communities and spend my days working with people who want to learn from other people.

What I like about this description is that it puts me right in the middle of a flurry of activity. Nothing is more rewarding than watching others around you take on a leadership role. I've been working with BCcampus  for 3 years and I have to say, this is my dream job. I support several Communities of Practice, steward two communities for educational practitioners: SCoPE and ETUG, and coordinate online and on ground workshops, conferences, and a variety of events.

My bad habits:
  • Jumping to do something because I know it's faster and easier than explaining, planning, consulting, getting consensus, etc etc
  • Ignoring the dust bunnies (I work from home)
Things that make me squirm:
  • When people seek advice without first investing time themselves to think through the issues and solutions
  • When colleagues give me credit without including the many other people around us who have contributed
Some of the things I'm thinking about these days:
  • Various CoP governance models and ways of communicating
  • Facilitating in the open
  • How to improve conferences and other events
  • Writing more about my practice
  • Slowing down

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Communicating online: email

I came across this hilarious comic: If you do this in an email, I hate you at The Oatmeal a couple years ago, and popped it in a draft blog post thinking I'd gradually compile a list as I notice things in email sent to me. Here are the items I've accumulated so far, offered in the form of advice. There's probably nothing new, and I don't hate you :-), but sometimes reminders can be a good thing! Also, many of these habits jump out at me because I have a high volume of email. I'm sure if you only receive a handful of email messages each day, there are some suggestions you won't agree with.

I have a few items specific to mailing lists that I'll save for a separate post. I'm also working on a list for communicating on the web, and on twitter, and...

Envelopes on the side of a delivery truck by PinkMoose
Here goes:
  1. Take the time to write clearly so that you're not requiring the recipient to take extra time to decipher what you want to say. You may be rushed, but it's not appropriate to assume others have more time than you do. 
  2. Don't use "hi" or "stuff" as subject headings. Meaningful subject headings are helpful to busy people. Besides, those messages often get whisked away by spam filters.
  3. Rather than attach a short document to an email message, paste the contents into the body of the email message.
  4. If you're sending a message from a handheld device or on twitter then skimping on punctuation, using all lower case, and inventing abbreviations are all okay. Don't carry these practices over to all electronic correspondence.
  5. Keep to the topic of the email message. If you have other topics to write about, send it in separate messages.
  6. Some people have several email accounts. Don't send your message to all of them. Chances are they are managing their own email and they don't appreciate receiving several copies of the same message.
  7. Don't send a reply to say you are about to do what was requested in the original message. Save it until you've actually done it! 
  8. Don't feel you need to immediately acknowledge every message you receive. This wastes everybody's time: "Thanks! I'm at the landromat so will read your message more carefully when I get home". Wait until you have something to say before you reply. 
  9. If you need to send a very short email message that doesn't require a response, use the subject heading with 'eom' at the end (eom = end of message). That way the recipient doesn't need to open the message to read it. For example: "The link works now. Thx! eom". The key here is that it needs to be short enough that the recipient doesn't need to click on the message subject heading to read it.
  10. Email signatures can be short and also interesting! (I have more to say about email signatures; I think it needs a separate blog post!)
  11. Sending plain text emails is a safer bet than HTML because you can be pretty sure that everyone will be seeing the same thing. 
  12. There are times to include the previous replies in an email message, and times to prune them. You need to use judgment, but in general you don't need to include the entire history of replies.
  13. Decide if you need to use 'reply' or 'reply all'. All this means is don't automatically do one or the other.
  14. Large or multiple attachments might be better transfered using a service like Dropbox or uploaded to Google Docs.
  15. If you are referring to a specific online resource that is relevant to understanding or taking action on your message, include the URL. 
  16. Consider letting the recipient know if you are not expecting a response, or if a response is optional.
  17. Don't offload your email management issues on to others: "Please use my home email address on the weekend because I only check my work email during the week. "
  18. Last one! (for now)...If the purpose of your email message is to schedule an appointment or event, offer enough information or use a tool like Doodle so that a decision can be made quickly and easily, without several replies back and forth.
Do you have anything to add to the list?

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Nancy Hall

Nancy...and Nancy
Nancy Hall, Gathering of Online Community Enthusiasts, May 2009

Members of the Healthy Minds/Healthy Campuses community, the BC Online Community Enthusiasts Group, and many, many, many others were deeply saddened to hear that Dr. Nancy Hall died on March 23, 2011. She was 60 years old.

I first met Nancy in 2008 when we began discussions about creating a community of practice for practitioners and researchers in BC colleges, universities, and local communities with the goal to support the mental health of post-secondary students.

What I remember most about our email correspondence during those early planning days was that I always imagined Nancy to be sitting on the edge of her seat -- such enthusiasm for her work, always positive and loaded with exclamation marks and witty comments that made me smile. Even during challenging times Nancy's notes were optimistic, like when she wasn't able to attend the 2010 Gathering of Online Community Enthusiasts in Vancouver last May: "I am really quite well, though compromised it would seem."

Oh but in person Nancy was even more incredible. Her passion for helping others and for learning was so contagious. She kept us engaged with stories and challenged us with important questions. She listened so carefully, but never quietly. And how many times did she say thank you? Nancy always acknowledged and appreciated the people who surrounded her, who learned from her. This Globe and Mail article captures Nancy's vision, and impact on our thinking about mental health.

Monday, March 28, 2011

CanadaMoot 2011

Getting ready for CanadaMoot 2011! A "moot" is a conference dedicated to Moodle users, developers and administrators. I've been using Moodle since summer, 2003 so I was probably pretty close to being one of the 2500 downloads the first week after version 1.0.9 was released. With founder Martin Dougiamas' help, we got Moodle up and running at Nicola Valley Institute of Technology, complete with an institutional theme, course shells and training for faculty, in just the few weeks leading up to the start of the 2003 semester. Exciting times!

This is where most of my Moodle work has been centred:
When I went digging back in past Moodle presentations and workshops I've facilitated, I found quite a few! Looking through this list brought back some great memories.

Moodle Moot - April, 2009
  • "SCoPE - An open, online community for people like you"
  • "How we do what we did" with Jill Calliou, Randy LaBonte, and Frances Long
  • "University of Manitoba: Moodle for conferences and massive open online courses"
  • Coordinator and Moderator: "Showcasing Saskatchewan and Manitoba" with Patricia Yeske, Delise Fathers, and Rob Wall
  • Moderator: "Finishing the Moodle Canvas - Encouraging Greater Usability" with Scott Tearle
  • Moderator: "Moodle Theming Workshop" with Julian Ridden Long Live the Platform Conference, January 11 - February 1, 2008
  • Moodle Platform Spokesperson and Support
BCcampus Educational Technology Users Group Spring Workshop May, 2007
Moodlemoot May, 2007
BCcampus Educational Technology Users Group Spring Workshop, 2005 Merritt, British Columbia
  • Workshop: "Build a Course in Moodle", with G. Bennett, H. Jackson, F. Long, S. Cooper, S. Morrison
Adult Basic Education Association of British Columbia Conference, May 2005, Celebrating Heritage, Culture and Education, Merritt, British Columbia
  • Presentation: "Implementing Moodle at an Aboriginal College", with D. Gambler
BCcampus Educational Technology User Group Fall Workshop, 2004 Vancouver, British Columbia
  • Presentation: "Why Moodle?", with D. Gambler and C. Littlewood
This year I won't be attending the Moodle Moot in person but I'm still involved in a variety of ways:
  • Sharing the responsibility to keep the Moot twitter feed active
  • Designing and coordinating a 3-week Moodle 2.0 Workshop (free, open to all) April 18-May 13, with a one-week break May 2-6). More information about this soon!
  • Online presentation: Facilitating in the Open
    Description: The increase in opportunities for educational practitioners to participate in open, online workshops, courses, and events, calls for a unique set of skills and considerations for facilitators. This session will focus on examples of facilitation using Moodle among the mix of social networking tools to support a variety of open learning activities.
Also, once again my employer BCcampus is a sponsor partner for the Canada Moot 2011.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Another transition for this blog

Two years ago Kate Britt retired from working on this blog and after a selection process to find someone to carry on the tradition of sharing information about tools and resources of interest to educational practitioners, passed the torch to the Educational Technology Users Group (ETUG). Well, actually what happened was she passed the torch to me, and then I brought the idea of ETUG members maintaining the blog to the Steering Committee (of which I am a member). The history of this transition process is tagged 'from pink to green'.

The Steering Committee saw this as an opportunity for ETUG members to give back to the wider edtech community by sharing the many tools and resources they come across, test, evaluate, and critique on a daily basis. These types of conversations weren't happening as we had expected in our own community space, and we felt that posting to this active blog (using Blogger -- so easy!) would encourage more sharing. We also saw a shared space as a way for members to ease into a blogging practice.

We're now at a point where we are revisiting this decision. A few things have happened during the time since we took on this project -- some unexpected, some not so surprising in hindsight, and some very exciting!
  1. Few ETUG members stepped up to become a blog author. 
  2. More post secondary institutions in British Columbia (where most ETUG members are employed) now have their own blogs for sharing tools and resources related to teaching and learning, and educational technology.
  3. Some of us have our own personal educational blogs, so coming to this blog to post seemed like an extra step. (In fact, I often cross-posted to my own blog, because the content seemed appropriate for both.)
  4. ETUG now has a new community site using WordPress / BuddyPress (still in the very early launch phase), where we expect to see a higher level of activity than our previous community space. 
From the beginning we talked about changing the URL for this blog, and possibly moving away from blogger altogether. It feels like the right time to make a change, and here's what I'm proposing:
  1. I will merge this blog with my own blog, Webbed Feat, where I will continue to post items of interest to educators... and likely more frequently! 
  2. All blog posts appear in the ETUG community, along with blog posts from other ETUG members, so ultimately we're still carrying on the tradition that Kate began. 
Does this seem like a reasonable plan? Feedback and better ideas always welcome! I'll hold off for a week before making any moves.

Open 4 Learning

The call for proposals is open for the ETUG Spring Workshop June 2 - 3.  This year the workshop will be held at Selkirk College in beautiful Nelson, British Columbia. Mountains! Lakes! I'll be packing my hiking boots and pfd.

I've been on the steering committee for ETUG since 2006, but more closely involved in all aspects of the community since 2008 when I began working at BCcampus,  the organization that provides support for ETUG activities. Historically, presenters and session leaders at ETUG Workshops were invited by the steering committee. However, in the past year the fall and spring workshop programs have been shaped through a call for proposals. I really prefer this invitation to the wider community to come forward with topic ideas, and to be innovative about session formats.

For this round I was also excited to see ETUG members engaged in brainstorming ideas for a workshop theme. Back in February, there was a flurry of activity in twitter, et voilĂ ... the perfect theme emerged thanks to Clint Lalonde.

The beautiful logo was created by the very talented Hilda Anggraeni,  a co-op student from Simon Fraser University. Hilda also did a remarkable job guiding the distributed design by committee process!

So get your proposals in!