Imagine a conference room in a convention centre in some metropolitan area [I'm sure you can]. It’s just after lunch and you’re stuffed on hotel food and wired from half a dozen cups of barely drinkable coffee. This morning you survived three presentations, each consisting of PowerPoint slides (at least Keynote slides have better default fonts) and the dreaded bullet points. Three presentations, 20-30 slides each and 5 to 20 bullet points per slide.
Quick Aside: Elliott Masie wrote a book, The Computer Training Handbook and discussed VCP analysis. When teaching, he recommended: Vocabulary: limit new words to 6-8 per hour. Concepts: no more than 3 per hour. Procedures: More, but make memorization unnecessary.
Anyway, you’ve already been inundated with dozens of new words, while concepts are just dropped like buzzwords and there is obviously no common understanding of concepts. For example, my idea of a network is quite different from someone who has never experienced being a member of an online professional network.
The presenter [facilitator, director, cheerleader or whatever name is used] has now told everyone that it’s time for conversation. Let’s open things up!
Here’s a bird’s eye view:
This is how the conversation goes. A participant raises their hand, the presenter recognizes it and nods approval and then the participant asks a question or makes a comment. The presenter almost always makes a comment or a response, no matter the experience of the other participants. If the presenter disagrees with a statement or a perspective, he or she is able to shoot it down or deflect it before it gains any momentum.
It looks like this:
Meanwhile, the communication and understanding of the folks distributed about round conference tables (so very conducive for collaboration) remains in question. However, the presenter remains in charge, just like the school teachers who set the example so many times.
After some time listening to the same sub-group of extroverts in the audience, the presenter runs out of time and sums up with some statement of how productive this has all been.
Imagine trying to add a comment on the nature of networks in this setting. How can you imagine a learning network when all you’ve experienced are hierarchical conversations?
Now here’s the transcript of the last #lrnchat conversation on Thursday evening, where I jumped in as “asker of questions” when the regulars weren’t able to show up. In this type of conversation, everybody can talk at once and each person reads what they want. If you like a comment you add something to it, or “retweet” it to show you agree. People on the sidelines get brought into the conversation and there is no middle or gatekeeper, other than those who initiate questions. We ran out of prepared questions and participants just added more.
Many people say, “it’s not about the technology”, but the technology of the conference room with screen & presenter at the front has a significantly different effect on conversation than does the micro-blogging virtual “tweetchat”.
I always recommend that we choose our technologies with care but we have to have experienced the options in order to see the differences. That was my great challenge. How do you explain networks and networked learning to people who have never experienced them?