Elements in Online Impressions

Recently I was part of the facilitators team of a webinar on First Impressions Online. In a previous post I described the tools we used. As part of preparations for the webinar we conducted an online survey among participants. We asked them to remember the first stage of our course Social Media for Learning & Change in which we all got to know each other online and to have one of the other participants in mind answering 4 questions.

Survey Results

First impressions: quite strong (in NL)

First impressions: quite strong (in NL)

Interestingly, people formed quite strong opinions about others without ever having met. People were described as “young and not overly confident”, “enthusiastic”, “in control all the time”, “helpful” or “not accessible, judgemental”. Photos were an important basis for these impressions for 8 out of 11 respondents. They noticed that a person was not smiling and was looking down in their profile picture, and looked at clothes, too. “Formal or informal makes a big difference”, concluded one participant. For about half of the respondents the accompanying text and/or the style in which it was written was important as well. Observations include “concise & powerful”, “phrasing used”, “judgemental”, and “lack of nuance”. Not all people that found the content of the text important also focused on its style and vice versa.

Another thing that was important in forming an impression of someone was their activity in the internal learning environment (a Ning). Respondents were impressed by the activity of others (“fast replies”, “(s)he is really into it”) and by the fact that they contributed in different places in the Ning (“replies popped up everywhere”).

Remarkable was that personal profiles did not play a role in forming a first impression of others. This might be explained by the fact that the personal profiles were located on a separate page for each participant and were thus perhaps not as easily visible as the first introductions and profile pictures that appeared on the home page.

Impression adjusted as a result of ... interaction!

Impression adjusted as a result of … interaction!

However strongly felt the first impressions were, respondents were open to adjust them and in fact did so: 64% changed their opinion about the person later on. This was mostly the result of (more) interaction online or face-to-face. More contact resulted in better understanding of the person and in a more positive impression.

Webinar

In the webinar participants mentioned that it was not easy to “reconstruct” their first impression. One of the great things about connecting to (new) people online is that you have a possibility to reserve judgement as one of the participants said. There is time to think, you do not have to react immediately but can consider the best way to answer or deal with something. You can choose how to react. This is an immense difference with face-to-face confrontations with others, where you cannot always buy time and consider the best approach.

In the ensuing conversation about how people try to present themselves online it became clear that there are many challenges. The fact that you should consider all networks as essentially “public” makes people reticent and careful – in where they are active (LinkedIn and not Facebook for instance), what they share (mostly professional information) and how they share it (no typos!). This is especially the case for those that work in bigger organisations. Freelancers seem to feel they have a bit more time and freedom, and perhaps also a bigger need to present themselves online. Many of them actively use different social media for networking and contacts. However, they make a distinction between networks they use privately and networks where they are present professionally. In these networks they of course also take into account that their clients may see their contributions and profiles. In that sense, online connections to a large extent are still extensions of offline contacts and networks. Participants also find it easier to contribute in platforms where they actually know (some of the) people offline, too, and become so-called lurkers in networks where they are less familiar with other members.

Klout: to see how you're perceived

Klout: to see how you’re perceived

Most people have an idea about the impression they would like others to have from their social media presence. But the big majority is not yet very actively developing an image for themselves. For now, they focus on trying to be as authentic as possible – not so authentic as to scare people away but also not so much focused on getting an image across that it makes one look too eager and phony, either.

Of course there are all sorts of online tools using statistic information that can help you assess how engaged people are with you online and, depending on how much credit you give these tools, how you come across online. One of those tools is Klout. However, Klout does not (yet?) use LinkedIn as a source and as such might not be much help for those that focus on this professional network only (please note: nowadays Klout does use LinkedIn, too!).

In the end you may still need to rely on people you actually know well telling you that you might do well to exchange your profile picture for one with a smile or making you think about whether or not to have the same profile picture in all your networks…

There is definitely much more to be said on the matter of how you come across online and how you can align your online image with your authentic self. For me, the webinar and preparing for it formed a good start for thinking about this, and I certainly look forward to discovering more on this subject.

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Webinar Tools

Yesterday evening a threesome of which I was part facilitated a webinar in the frame of the Curriculum Social Media for Learning & Change in which we all participate. Since we had used BigMarker a few times already (as participants, not as facilitators though) we decided to try something else for a change. We came up with a combination of Skype and SynchTube, since we wanted to watch videos together, do two quick polls, have a discussion, share a document and have a chat. With these two tools, all of that was possible.

SynchTube
(please note that SynchTube is now out of use. TogetherTube could be an alternative).

In SynchTubeyou can create a room to watch videos, chat and do polls. You can do this, without having an account! Once you’ve created the room, you can share the link and everyone who gets the link can enter the room. The room looks like this:

SynchTube: overview of a room

SynchTube: overview of a room

On the left hand side you will find the video. On the right hand side there is a space to chat. It is important to first type your name in the box “Enter a name” and then click “Join chat”. Otherwise you will remain “unnamed” as is shown at the top right hand side.

SynchTube: poll

SynchTube: poll

The arrow at the bottom right hand side points to where polls can be added. A poll needs to have at least 2 possible answers. Participants can click on the number in front of the answer of their choice and vote. Everyone can vote only once. The scores are immediately updated. The leader can close the poll and start a new one.

Polls can be created only by the “leader” of the room. Initially, this is the person who created the room, but this person can give others the leaders role by clicking on a name and choosing to make them leader. If you want to remove someone from the room, you can click on their name and choose “kick”.

SynchTube: chat space

SynchTube: chat space

While you’re watching a video or taking a poll, you can share thoughts in the chat space. In the picture you can see that I managed to name myself and joined the chat. Below the chat space there is a small bar to type your chat contributions.

Some tips

  • You need at least 2, preferably 3, facilitators, even if you work with a small group only. The reason is that you need at least one person that will take care of all tech issues – like mishaps with SynchTube, people who have problems with Skype, etc etc – and one person that will do the actual facilitation of the discussion and work. If people are chatting and talking at the same time, it is practical to have a third person who will bring up issues from the chat into the discussion. So while you can save on time and expenses for travelling by working online, you may need more persons for facilitation than if you would have organised a face-to-face event.
  • The tech person should (try to) deal with the tech problems without interfering in the session itself, to the extent this is possible. This means that the tech person may need to set up separate connections (phone, Skype, etc) with people that are experiencing problems, and that way may miss out on some of the content being shared.
  • Be prepared for technical problems messing up your session especially at the start of the webinar. Meaning: allow space in the agenda for delays. And: be cool about it if and when it happens. Don’t panic the participants with your own panic!
  • Try out the tech tools at least twice yourself and check the possibilities of the tools you’ve chosen to work with. For instance in this case we had originally thought to use GoogleHangout (via Google+). We tried it twice – the first time it worked excellently and the second time it did not work nearly as well without us having a clear clue as to the why. Also, we found out in the nick of time that GoogleHangout allows for maximum 10 people to join at any given time. And as we invited more than 10 participants and could not be sure enough of them would cancel to stay within the limit of 10, we decided to look for another tool that would allow for over 10 participants at the same time.
  • Send participants clear instructions beforehand. If you will use a tool that you are not sure they have used before, send them a short guide of the tool. You can make screen shots from your test sessions to visualise certain elements of the tools and insert them in a written text if you cannot find a clear guide online.
  • Let participants do some of the thinking before the webinar. In this case, we sent participants a link to a Prezi highlighting some of the questions to be tackled in the webinar as well as a link to an online survey (via FluidSurveys) through which we collected certain information already. We presented the results of the survey during the webinar and used this as a starting point for further exchange.
  • Be clear on the order of things: we will start in Skype, then we will share a link to a SynchTube room and we will watch videos there, for instance. Let people know what to expect and give clear instructions: “Now we will go to SynchTube. Don’t forget to enter your name for the chat.”
  • Be clear on the rules: once we move to SynchTube, mute your skype to avoid hearing echos. And make sure that everyone does this, too!
  • During a Skype discussion, be sure to address certain questions to a specific person, and use their name. In a face-to-face event it is much easier to look at someone while addressing a question to the group. Obviously, this does not work on Skype.
  • Be sure to check a chat, if you have any, regularly and refer to remarks made there.
  • Create atmosphere in the beginning: do not start rightaway with going from one tool to the next. First establish that everyone is there and make sure that everyone knows what will happen, how and when.

An evaluation was conducted in Wallwisher (now: Padlet) and generated positive feedback:

Wallwisher Evaluation (in NL)

Wallwisher Evaluation (in NL)

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Developing Communities

Communities are formed by persons – even if they represent organisations. So if you want to support a community in its development, you have to focus on the needs of the actual people involved. This is for me one of the eye openers of the webinar Digital Habitats of Communities with Nancy White, organised by En nu online on 21 February 2012.

So what are those communities that we spoke about? A community is formed by a group of people with a common interest, value or goal, that build a joint identity. The community provides a sense of belonging and meaning, that is valuable to the members and that makes them want to contribute to the community itself as well.

Nancy White: 3 perspectives on a community

Nancy White: 3 perspectives on a community

According to Nancy White, there are 3 types of stakeholders in relation to a community: the members, the leadership and the sponsors. The sponsors are for instance the organisations that are represented in the community by certain members. While a community should focus on its members and on offering value to them, it should definitely also pay attention to the needs of the organisations behind these members.

Balancing the needs of these stakeholders and of the community itself as a whole needs a clear view on what the community is actually about – what is the reason it exists, and what is its focus at a certain moment in time? What activities can suit that focus and what tools can be used to facilitate the work of the community?

Through their research into communities and their development, White, Wenger and Smith developed the so-called spidergram. The spidergram shows 9 possible orientations of a community at a certain point in time. The spidergram is not a static “test” that you take only once and that provides a roadmap for all time. As a community develops it may shift its orientation. Another important thing to note about the spidergram is that no community scores high on all orientations at the same time, not even a very well-developed one. In that sense, the spidergram does not provide an ideal direction.

So what then does the spidergram show? It basically shows you where the community is at, at this moment. What is the current focus of the community? This in turn can help you define the activities that will deliver the most value to the community and the most suitable tools to facilitate these activities.

Example of a Spidergram filled out

Example of a Spidergram filled out

These are the questions the spidergram can help you ask:

1. Are meetings important instruments for the community to discuss and decide on common viewpoints and steps to be taken?

2. Is the community focused on developing and implementing projects – sets of tasks that are related to each other and lead within a certain time frame to certain, defined and projected output and results? Mind you, a project does not need to be an externally financed official project, internal development of a new practice can also be considered a project.

3. Does the community reach out to expertise? This expertise can be available within the community, and be accessible for instance through an internal resource directory.

4. Is there space within the community to discuss “whatever it is that we need to talk about right now”? In spidergram terms, are there open-ended conversations? Interestingly, this orientation can be strong both in new and in mature communities!

5. Is the community working on producing common content? Like developing documents together, sharing information, capturing lessons learned. Content and projects rather often form a strong starting point of communities as the activities tend to bring people together for a very clear common purpose, that can inspire them to develop into a real community.

These 5 orientations focus on activities of a community. The 4 orientations below  focus on the relations within the community and the relations the community has with the outside world.

6. Is there space for members of the community to each have their own experience – is there space for individual participation? Even though togetherness is a crucial feature of a functioning community, every individual involved will have his or her own experience from this being together, will get out something different than the others. This could also be interesting for the others – to hear a different perspective of what was gained.

7. Is there some level of cultivation of the community? Is someone taking care of the togetherness? Is someone ensuring that new members get to know the others and get to know the community? Are things that need to be shared in fact shared?

8. What is the external focus of the community, the context? Is the community engaging with the outside world, or is it focused on its own goals and activities? There is no right or wrong in being either externally or internally oriented – some communities do not need to lobby with outside stakeholders to achieve their aims, while others could not reach their goals without strong ties to external parties. When scoring your spidergram be aware that an internal focus should be scored closer towards the bulls eye, whereas an external focus should be scored more towards the outside of the “circle”.

9. Are there different relationships within the community? Meaning, do people have one on one relations with other community members or are there small sub-groups of people that share also outside of the “official community channels”? Such relationships do not harm the community, provided of course they do not focus on nasty gossip about other community members, in fact they can help forge stronger ties within the community.

Each of these orientations can be supported by the community leadership or facilitators with different online and offline tools. In selecting and applying tools you should, however, keep in mind to bring value to both the members and their organisations.

View more from Nancy White

More information

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Book: Social Media for Trainers

Book Cover Social Media for Trainers

Book Cover Social Media for Trainers

I recently had the pleasure of reading the book “Social Media for Trainers – Techniques for Enhancing and Extending Learning” by Jane Bozarth (published by Pfeiffer in 2010). It is a wonderfully practical and concrete book that I can warmly recommend to anyone working with groups in the capacity of a trainer, coordinator or leader. The main tools presented in the book are Twitter, Facebook, blogs and wikis. All of these I know by experience, and still the book provided me with new ideas and insights.

 

Structured Content Social Media for Trainers

Structured Content Social Media for Trainers

Bozarth goes through the 4 main tools in a structured way: explaining the basics, paying attention to advantages and disadvantages, and showing when and how it can be used. All chapters contain clear examples of questions and exercises that can be used with the tool, as well as real life examples of use of the tool in a bigger organisation or company. If you’re still not convinced: there are screen shots, too, so you can actually visualise what she is describing even if you do not have any personal experience with the tool.

While I have come to see Twitter definitely as a tool for learning I so far was focused more on how it is a tremendous source of information validated by people whose judgement I trust or whose perspective interests me (the people I am following). Bozarth showed me a new perspective: how to engage learners or a community through Twitter. You can ask them to introduce themselves on Twitter, they can answer start up questions or receive reading or other assignments. But you can also organise role plays, or use Twitter as a back channel for engaging learners or community members in a conversation in parallel to a class or webinar. And you could even schedule tweets asking evaluation questions one or more weeks after an event, and get feedback on how people are using newly gained knowledge and ideas in practice. For all these ideas, Bozarth lists clear sample questions suitable for the Twitter environment.

Similarly, she presents clear examples for use of Facebook (groups or pages), blogs and wikis in learning and community environments. As well as a few ideas concerning a small selection of other social media tools like SlideShare, Youtube, TeacherTube and Delicious.Through this all, she shows keen understanding of needs of learners and community members and shares her experiences with communities of practice and in the (virtual) class room.

In all, a valuable and inspirational resource for all of us interested in engaging people in processes – whether they be for learning or otherwise.  I wish you happy reading!

Find Jane Bozarth

Jane Bozarth on blogspot

Jane Bozarth on Twitter

Jane Bozarth on Facebook

Jane Bozarth on Google+

Short description of Jane Bozarth on Learning Solutions Mag

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Tools for Learning

Jane Hart, C4LPT

Jane Hart, C4LPT

One of the websites that inspired me in 2011 is Top-100 Tools for Learning as developed by Jane Hart, founder of the Centre for Learning & Performance Technologies C4LPT. In the last 5 years this list was compiled annually, based on learning professionals’ experiences and input.

The list triggers my curiosity by providing just a short description in the list (Nr 1 – Twitter:  micro-sharing site), and by providing comments from those that recommended the tool if you click on it. From there you can directly link to the tool’s web address. This year, there is a neat summary available via Slideshare (embedded below), in addition to the list in text form.

What makes the list interesting and useful is not just the fact that it is a great resource, but that it makes you consider the tools on it in a different light. For instance, Twitter has been number 1 since 2009. Before I was directed towards the Top-100 in a workshop on Social Media for Learning and Change, I would not have viewed Twitter as a potential learning tool. Like many others, I thought Twitter was just to share how many coffees you’d been drinking that day, where you were and what you might be doing next. Since then, I have discovered I was wrong there and found that indeed there is a lot to be learned through Twitter.

That’s what makes the list a small adventure for me – there is always a small or big discovery to be had. If you are interested in learning and in online tools to facilitate learning, it is a must-check website!

In 2011 I have explored several learning and training tools that were new to me; some of them I found through the Top-100 and some through other channels. I have dedicated a few posts to my experiences with tools that I found to be (potentially) useful for NGOs I work with, like Delicious, Wordle, Yammer and a few TED Talks that I found inspirational. I plan to continue exploring new tools in 2012 and will share exciting finds through my blog of course.

But as I am sure I will not manage all 100 tools (let alone the 50 tools that did not make the list) I would invite you to experience the richness of the list for yourselves as well. I am looking forward to hearing about your adventures!

Resources

Top 100 Tools for Learning 2011

View more presentations from Jane Hart

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Yammer

If you need to collaborate in a closed group with members that are not sharing an office, you might like to try out Yammer. I started experimenting with Yammer recently in the frame of a curriculum on Social Media for Learning & Change in Organisations. In the short time I have been using it I have found it a very useful and easy-to-use tool.

In Yammer you can set up a network within which you can discuss, share information and develop documents.

Selected topic and posts - option to Follow

Selected topic and posts – option to Follow

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Sticky Wall

Is this all? (photo Simon Koolwijk)

Is this all? (photo Simon Koolwijk)

It looks like just a nice blue-coloured piece of cloth that is sticky on one side. You tape it to a wall with the sticky side on the front, and there you are. Well, not quite.

It’s a tool that has never let me down so far. So what’s so special about it?

First of all, the sticky wall is a tool used in the Technology of Participation (ToP), as developed by the Institute of Cultural Affairs in the USA (ICA-USA). So it’s not just a gadget, it is part of a way of working, a participatory approach. I was trained in this methodology by Simon Koolwijk and have used it for around 10 years now.

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Video Introductions

Workshop Looking for a Fight, by Judith de Bruijn

Workshop Looking for a Fight, by Judith de Bruijn

There must have been a time when people were genuinely enthusiastic to attend conferences. Nowadays, however, people are sometimes complaining about having to go as conferences are increasingly seen as talkshops that do not contribute to getting your own work done. The conference is of course fighting back bravely, by having interactive, participatory programmes instead of one key note after another. Still, in order to convince potential participants, it is a must to make very clear what people can gain from taking part.

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