Reflection Shows Differences Between People

Sometimes you do something for the umpteenth time without giving it too much thought. And then some insight hits you. Well, anyway that is what happened to me in Bangladesh recently. The day after a rather full meeting day I asked the group to write down what they remembered from the day before. Discussions, topics, ideas – anything that would pop up. They divided into three groups, and each group developed a tree with branches, twigs and leaves representing their memories.

I cannot say how often I have done this exercise with a group. Many, many times. And of course I continue using it because there is always something interesting that comes to the fore when looking at the different trees depicting the same day in the minds of different people. Because the memories show what made an impression – what is considered important, new, exciting or shocking. And they show how information and impressions are processed.

reflection trees

Trees

What was different this time is that the group divided itself more or less according to their positions in the organisation. And that became very visible in their products. One tree showed a management approach to the issues discussed and included not only what was actually talked about but also things that could or should be done as a result of the discussions. Another tree was made by the television production team – a creative team with people that are focused on relations and visualising information. This, too, was obvious from the tree. It was the only tree that contained a reference to feelings and it focused on the impact of the discussions. The third tree was made by the executive producer and clearly showed the meticulous way he works and his focus on planning. He remembered all discussions in chronological order and thus his tree showed the day before as a step by step process.

Usually I work with mixed groups and then again mix the groups that create a joint tree, so I never had the opportunity before to see three different parts of one organisation visualised by their memories of the day before. And to see so clearly the differences in thinking, feeling and acting between people with completely different positions in one NGO.

It was quite mesmerising – until the moment when one group started to lecture the other about what should or should not be in their tree. (I suppose you can guess which group criticised which other group). And then I woke up and knew why it would not necessarily be a good idea to continue forming groups for the tree exercise according to ‘organisational department’ unless your second agenda is to actually do something about the dynamics between the departments and the different people. Which was not really part of my assignment in this case.

The insight I referred to above was thus that possibly unwittingly I had been organising this exercise in the right way for my assignments so far. And that if I would have an assigment focusing on organisational culture in one NGO I might tweak the groups according to department to let the participants themselves show what they are good at, what their focus is and what the differences are between the different departments and the people in them.

Collecting memories

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Visualising What Was Important

As I have written before, I tend not to believe that much in traditional evaluation forms any more. The information you receive is to a large extent not usable for you as trainer or facilitator. For instance if it concerns issues you have no influence on like who is invited or able to come and who is not.

But what’s worse, providing the feedback is mostly not very useful for the participants. That in itself renders evaluations less useful – if there is nothing to gain from spending some brain space on answering evaluation questions in earnest I think it is fair to assume that most participants will just jot something down quickly in order to be off sooner rather than later.

If you can connect the evaluation to the participants’ feelings and to the steps they plan to take in future using the things they learned and developed during the training, you may have a better chance of getting quality feedback that they have actually spent some time on formulating.

In a recent training assignment I asked participants at the end of the training to take a picture of something that for them symbolised the most significant moment or insight of the training and to send this to me with one sentence of explanation. Here is what I got:

From these pictures and texts I conclude that

  • the training was lively and participatory, which was much appreciated
  • participants felt engaged in the team, as they all got tasks for steps to be taken after the training
  • participants gained more insight into the topic of the training and jointly developed an image of what they want to achieve together
  • participants felt hopeful because of the shared vision for the future

and thus that me and my co-trainer Gusztáv Nemes succeeded in creating a shared knowledge base on the topic (including new knowledge provided also by us), in supporting the group to use this knowledge as a basis for a common vision for the future, in mobilising the group to work as a team towards the shared goals and in creating an open atmosphere in which everyone could and did take part actively.

And so these simple statements and picture made me very happy about our performance – much more than a traditional happy sheet could have done, where I would have to guess what could be the reasons for the scores given.

But the main source of happiness was due to the fact that participants actually spent time looking around themselves and considering this and that item as a suitable symbol all the while thinking about what the main moment had been in the last two and a half days of work. Looking at the pictures sent, most participants selected a moment that connected the training to their future actions and work as a team. For me, those two things show the true value of this exercise.

rural development vision for Bosnia and Herzegovina

A picture is worth a thousand words

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Things My Mobile Saw This Year

It happened almost imperceptibly. But there it is. I seem to have started using my phone to take pictures. Initially, I did not see the point of having a camera on my phone. After all, I did have a real camera and I hardly used it.

But as I was looking through my phone gallery just now I found I have loads of visual reminders of moments that have turned into nice memories – and that I somehow caught with my phone.

Below you can see a short impression of Things My Mobile Saw This Year, made with PhotoSnack. You can also view 2013 in mobile photos here.

Of course this is just fooling around and a major way of procrastinating online. After all, who apart from myself would care what things my phone caught in pictures.

However, this very easy way of collecting photos into a slide show with the option of adding text and descriptions – I did this in 10 minutes tops – can be a powerful tool when used for educational purposes. Why not ask your participants to make a PhotoSnack of their impressions of your training or workshop? Why not ask them to prepare for their learning process by showing you as trainer their day-to-day environment in which they will have to apply their new knowledge or skills? Why not ask them to show some of their routines, annoyances, or challenges? Why not ask them to show you their highlights and moments of glory after the training?

Why not, indeed. No reason why they cannot spend for instance half an hour reflecting on what they need to change or what they have learned. Such investment of time and attention is peanuts compared to whatever it is they will have to do to integrate their new knowledge and skills and insights into their daily practice. And it may well make that bumpy road ahead of them easier: it can help them focus and it can help them stay motivated if they can look back at their own visual reminders of what it is they wanted to tackle and what tools they got from the training to deal with those challenges.

As for me, it feels good to see some of the things I did and experienced so far this year. There have been a lot of good moments and I feel good to have captured them. If nothing else, that fact shows me I am still developing myself and that I am still building new habits. It is really inspirational to realise that there are always new things to be learned and applied – and this is so easily done!

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Instagram as a Tool for your Learning Process?!

This summer I was finally forced to try Instagram. Until then, I must confess I had not bothered to. I do like photos, but I always seem to forget to take pictures even if that is nowadays as easy as not forgetting to bring your phone.

I first became more engaged with Instagram when the Dutch LOSmakers community organised a joint trial of it. The LOSmakers are interested in how social media can be used in processes of learning and change and the community members are focused on practical use of tools and exchange about experiences and best practices. True to form, the trial was practice-oriented: everyone who wanted to join was requested to post one photo each day during three consecutive days. The photos were to introduce yourself to the others. On the fourth day, a joint Skype session was held to share experiences and discuss how Instagram might be used in real life.

I was unable to join the Skype session, but did join the three-day photo posting preparation of it. And became hooked almost immediately. Why?

  • It turned out to be really very easy to take a quick snapshot of something around the house and to share this on Instagram
  • It turned out to be very nice to see how people reacted to this with comments and through their own photos – suddenly many of us started sharing pictures of our bookcases

IMG_20130626_134327-800

  • Some really nice conversations came about with people that I’d never met before, online or face-to-face
  • It was very easy to follow all posted pictures and conversations using Webstagram with a hashtag (web.stagram.com/tag/hashtag)

Webstagram picture

  • As a bonus, we discovered the InstaCollage app that enables you to make a collage out of pictures (whether Instagram or not) including text, frames and effects

collage_4

 

So how could Instagram be used in a learning situation?

  • As an online introduction exercise – ask participants to share pictures of something they did, of something that is important to them, of their kitchen, bookcase, etc. Keep in mind to connect the focus question for the introduction to the theme of the work to be done later on
  • As tool for reflection or evaluation – ask participants to share a picture that represents what they learned, how they feel, what was the most important insight to them, etc.
  • As a tool to take stock of a situation – ask participants to share a picture of their desk, of an annoyance in their daily work or life, of an internal notice board, etc. The focus question will of course depend on what you will be working on

As said, the easy part is taking snapshots with a phone or tablet. Most everyone can do this nowadays.

However, there are some hurdles to be taken. While Instagram allows you to like and comment, it does not send notifications when someone comments on your photo or on a comment of yours. This means you would need to regularly check to stay on top of ongoing discussions.

Webstagram does help, because you can search on the basis of agreed hashtag, and then just visit the search page (web.stagram.com/tag/hashtag) online and browse through. As long as there are not too many photos this is easy to do. It is also possible to comment and like via Webstagram directly, without needing to go to Instagram.

A practical issue is that some people prefer to have a private status on Instagram, meaning that only their Instagram friends can see their pictures. That could lead to a situation where people are posting, but not all participants can see these pictures, more or less forcing that person to change their privacy settings if they really want to take full part.

The main reason why I might be hesitant to use Instagram as a platform is that it requires an account. If you are going to work online with a group, you will already have a platform for which people need an account (Yammer, Facebook, LinkedIn, Wikispaces, etc) and to ask people to create an account on yet another platform and to have part of the discussion going on there might be too much. Especially, but not only, if the group is averse towards online tools in the first place. Replacing any of the other platforms would in my opinion not do, as Instagram does not have all the features needed for work in a closed group.

What the exercise did give me was a confirmation of the power of visuals, and the unexpected and interesting conversations that can come out of using photos and photo assignments. This is something I will certainly make use of. Those that have an Instagram account could then use that, while those that would not like to create an account on a new platform could for instance easily use Fotor, which can do much the same as InstaCollage, without account.

collage_10That does not mean that I would discard Instagram as a platform for learning and exchange altogether. I have experienced its power on the occasion of Croatia joining the EU as its 28th Member State, 1 July 2013. For many reasons this country has a firm place in my heart and I was very sorry that I was unable to be there at the magic moment. Instead, I became a Twitter junkie and followed whatever and whoever I could to stay updated in the days leading up to the 1st of July and on the night of 30 June. One of my new Twitter friends invited me to link also on Instagram, and that’s when I discovered a wealth of picture posts. And it wasn’t just enthusiastic Croatian citizens posting pictures of the main square, the Croatian government was really very active as well in sharing the atmosphere of these days, combined with information about Croatia and its accession process.

This unlimited sharing of information across borders is what, in my opinion, really shows the value of Instagram. After all, learning is based on being confronted with new information, reflecting on it and engaging about it, and embedding the new insights into your life somehow. Precisely that is what Instagram offered me in the lead-up to Croatia’s accession and in the introduction picture round with the LOSmakers.

wwwvladahr on Instagram

wwwvladahr on Instagram

 

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How to Make your Message more Attractive

I guess by now most of us are aware that the web2.0 is becoming increasingly visual. Information is shared as stories in the form of pictures, videos, infographics, cartoons, animations, wordles, drawings or combinations of these (like in Glogster and Storify).

Make your own photo slideshow at Animoto.

Continue reading

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Playful Visualisation Tools

If you want to spend 5 minutes and have some fun with a twist, then you should try BigHugeLabs, ReciteThis or Picture2Life. All you need is a picture or a quote. And a plan. And in a few minutes you will have an inspiring poster or a picture with a caption.

BigHugeLabs: Captioner

BigHugeLabs: Captioner

If you haven’t got inspiration, ReciteThis has a wide range of quotes you can choose from and make a nice poster-type picture of.

Uplifting! ReciteThis

Uplifting! ReciteThis

All this is of course a nice break away from work.

But you could also use these tools for work-related messages.

You could make a ReciteThis out of a quote of one of your participants.

Participants defining the aim of a shadow report. ReciteThis

Participants defining the aim of a shadow report. ReciteThis

Or you could use the Motivator tool of BigHugeLabs to add a message to a photo of an activity.

BigHugeLabs: Motivator

BigHugeLabs: Motivator

Or you could personalise a message to someone using Captioner in BigHugeLabs.

Or, if you want others to do the dirty work, you could invite your participants to share a picture with a quote or message by way of introduction or as an assignment related to the topic of your workshop.

100_0374-1_original

So even a bit of fooling around with tools like these can give you tons of ideas for your work – justifying those 5 minutes break in a heartbeat! Have fun!

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Pinterest

Finally, I can say I started using Pinterest. Obviously, I had been reading about it, and had looked at other people’s pin boards and made good use of them. I also set up an account months ago and dabbled a bit. But I have to admit I was still more hooked to Delicious as a tool to create online libraries and was uncertain whether Pinterest would provide me with real added value. Especially now that Delicious has become much more visual as well.  Now I can say I got it.

Organise saved links in pin boards (Eric Sheninger)

Organise saved links in pin boards (Eric Sheninger)

Like in Delicious, you can save links in an organised way. In Pinterest this organisation is called a pin board, in Delicious it is a stack. Like in Delicious nowadays, these links are shown in a visual way: you get a one picture preview. The difference is, that you can save all links in Delicious whereas Pinterest needs a “pinnable” element on the location you want to link to. Not all sites have such elements, but there is a way around that, see below.

Example of a pin (Eric Sheninger)

Example of a pin (Eric Sheninger)

Both tools allow you to add a short description of the link, so that other people are able to see if this link may be interesting for them before clicking on it. In Delicious you can also tag your saved links, making it easier for visitors and yourself to select even within a stack which links might be useful. As far as I can see, this is not yet possible in Pinterest.

Like Delicious, Pinterest is a social media tool. Meaning that you can make your own profile and follow what other people do. You can re-pin pins saved by others. And you can comment and discuss.

Both tools allow for very easy saving of links, by adding an element to your bookmarking menu (“Save on Delicious” or “Pin It”.)

Both tools can be used in class and for trainings; sharing background materials in one location, collaborating in a group on this collection, etc.

So what is the added value of Pinterest that I truly realised only just now?

Go to the Add button on the top and upload a pin!

Go to the Add button on the top and upload a pin!

Easy! Pinterest allows you to upload your own content, too.  Content that is not online and thus does not have a link to bookmark. You can make pins out of your pictures, infographics and screenshots.  That way, your pin board can become a collection of links and photos, instead of just a library of links. This aspect is also the key to including links without so-called pinnable elements. You can make a screenshot of part of the page, upload it as a pin, and add the link afterwards.

Add a link to a screenshot of a site with unpinnable elements

Add a link to a screenshot of a site with unpinnable elements

This combination of links and own materials makes it, for example, possible to create a pin board relating to a certain event or activity that you have organised. You could collect all press releases, media clippings, photos and videos about the event in one pin board. That way, both people who were there and people who weren’t can easily see what went on and find all related materials in one publicly accessible place.

But, like Eric Sheninger, you can also create a pin board sharing methodsWeb2.0 Tools for Educators.

Possibilities are endless. And although I am sure I will continue using Delicious, I will definitely start using Pinterest more actively than I have.

So, just get started like I finally did and see how you like it!

Example of a pin board about an event

Example of a pin board about an event

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LinkedIn

Don’t tune out just yet! LinkedIn may look boring to you but today I found out that it can look quite sexy as well! Like many other tools, LinkedIn is also moving forward in the visualisation trend and via LinkedIn Labs you can create a map of your connections as well as a timeline of them.

LinkedIn Map

LinkedIn Map

In this map LinkedIn tried, as best as it could, to visualise different networks that I am part of and the interconnections between people in my network. As you can see from the labels given to the different colours, this is not a perfect picture (as some friends seem to have been mixed up with other networks of which they are not really part and some people seem to be connected but are in fact not), but it can certainly provide some insights into my network.

At first sight it looks like there are 2 main network clouds (blue on the right and green/red/orange on the left). But it strikes me that there is also a higher level of interconnectedness between networks – bar a few exceptions – than I might have thought. Apart from a few “loose” connections around the middle, all networks seem to be connected to other networks in turn. What I see is that within my networks people are highly connected and I see that I know a few key people that move in different networks of mine and thus act as a linking pin between them (together with myself of course).

The second thought that struck me was the very limited cloud of family and friends. This is due my LinkedIn policy when I started using it – to focus on professional contacts only and not inviting friends. The only friends that entered my network at that time were those that sent me an invite that I did not dare refuse. Over time, obviously I have changed that policy and now my network does include quite a few friends.

A third thought that pops up is that I should invest a bit more in developing my networks relating to my new  activity areas, since these are among the smallest in the cloud. This is something I already planned on doing, but seeing the visualisation of my network brings this message home once more.

A last thought is that the classification of networks is based on from where and when I know people – not on where they are now.  In that sense the cloud is a picture of the past as much as it represents present connections. It will be interesting to see how it will develop further and what it will look like a few months from now.

LinkedIn Timeline

LinkedIn Timeline

Through the timeline application, LinkedIn Labs try to visualise your network development over time. This, too, is not a 100% correct representation of when connections came about but it is a nice try and it does give an impression of how your network expands in relation to your education and job timeline.

So, apart from enabling you to fool around for a bit – are these applications useful? I would say yes. First of all, anything that makes you pay attention to your network is useful in and of itself. More importantly, these applications make clear visually how you have built up your network (and what choices you have made in this regard) and where it is strongly developed. If you reflect on the pictures, they also provide pointers as to where you might invest your networking efforts, if you want to develop your network further.

I think investing some time in LinkedIn is useful not just for people looking for a new job or a new client. I find that LinkedIn with its groups and update functions is also pretty useful for professional development and for keeping up to date with what’s going on – as well as with your friends and acquaintances. The more you link with the people that are right for you, the more you will learn about the world around you – and without much hassle! It may not look sexy, but it is definitely worth it. I find at least one interesting thing on LinkedIn on each day that I check my updates: a job description I have never heard of before, an inspirational quote, a useful link or an interesting group that someone in my network joined … And if you want to spice up your LinkedIn experience you can always play with these nice applications! Enjoy!

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Content Curation

Pinterest

Pinterest

Content curation is not new – in fact it is at least as old as concepts like libraries and museums. So why is it so hot these days? Why are there all sorts of tools, like Pinterest, the hottest new kid in town, that can help you curate content? It must have something to do with the widespread feeling of information overload in combination with an ever increasing number of social media tools that give all of us the opportunity to collect our favourite content around us.

This personal collection of links, photos, ideas and thoughts that many of us create on Facebook for instance is a form of content curation. We are filtering for our Facebook friends and subscribers information that we find important, and are in turn using our friends and likes for consuming filtered information. This could help us make sense of all the information available to us on the web. After all, as I recently heard: information overload is filter failure. The human filter of our friends and others we follow should help us find that information that is useful for us, and to avoid that which we do not need so that we do not become too daunted by everything out there.

However, exactly the tools that help us focus on information important to us are also making it more and more difficult to remain focused. After all, most of us have profiles in different networks – LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and Google+ probably being the most current ones. And each of these networks may have a different focus, a different network to maintain and follow.

One of my collections in Delicious

One of my collections in Delicious

Of course there are now tools to manage these different networks by enabling you to post an update in different profiles (for instance If This Then That) and to check updates of others in one environment (for instance Hootsuite). RSS readers can help us view updates of blogs and websites at a glance, in Delicious we can collect and organise bookmarks, and Instapaper allows us to collect things we would still like to read – some day.

Nevertheless, it seems about time for new solutions to be found to design and apply effective information filters. That is probably one of the reasons that content curation is getting more attention nowadays. After all, visiting all our social network museums and updating our libraries daily is getting more and more unmanageable while it seems as if it is equally impossible to skip any of them even for one day.

Rohit Bhargava describes 5 models for content curation. They are aggregation, distillation, elevation, mash up and chronology. It seems to me that some models are applied more widely (aggregation, distillation, chronology) than others (elevation, mash up). Maybe because getting to a level where you can elevate and mash up information gathered requires a solid command of that information first – to be acquired via aggregation, distillation and chronology. But perhaps also because a great number of readers find posts like “5 mistakes to avoid on Twitter” easier to digest than posts that explain the trends in perceived mistakes and the background of such trends.

Symbaloo collection by Joitske Hulsebosch

Symbaloo collection by Joitske Hulsebosch

From my limited experience I can see two trends in content curation: to aggregate must-follow blogs and persons rather than ideas and tips, and to aggregate in a visual way by for instance pinning photos to a pin board, as is done in Pinterest, or by collecting visuals of websites like in Symbaloo.

While I also enthusiastically explore and consume these tools, I also feel that what is missing is attention for elevating a mere collection of links to a meaningful vision and for prioritising which information to digest and which to discard. With growing connectedness, ever expanding networks and more and more tools to collect information and keep this collection accessible it becomes more complicated to figure out when and where to stop. Simple tricks that can help include:

  • Reserving a specific period of time regularly for checking up your social media networks and for browsing
  • Identifying 3-7 topics you will focus on
  • Identifying a limited and clear range of people to follow in each network, based on your focus
  • Focusing on a limited number of networks, while giving yourself time to try new ones for a month before deciding whether to continue using them or not
  • Regularly re-evaluating your presence in and use of social media to make sure you are still where you want and need to be
  • Viewing networks like Twitter as fountains – you can go there to drink, but if you do not drink, you do not need to catch up later

One of the clearest statements I heard on this recently comes from Joitske Hulsebosch. Basically she said that walking through a library does not stress out people as much as passing by content on the web. Somehow in a library we do not tend to have a feeling of needing to read each single book curated there and of inadequacy at realising this is never going to be possible. In a museum some of us will visit only the impressionists while others prefer to view classic painters like Rembrandt and Vermeer. And this is perfectly fine.

So the best advice probably is to be aware that not all curated content is curated for your personal consumption – just as the content you curate is not all of it there on your blog or profile page for each single visitor. And to be content with that. And to trust that if information is meant to reach you, it will.

A bit more on content curation

What can non-profits learns about content curation – a Storify by Beth Kanter

5 models for content curation – post by Rohit Bhargava

Non-profits on Pinterest – a Storify by Beth Kanter

It’s Filter Failure – post by Joitske Hulsebosch with great English language video of Clay Shirky on filter failure

The Filtering Facilitator – Prezi by Joitske Hulsebosch (in NL)

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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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