Learning and Performance, Learning Community, PLE, PLN, Professional Development, Virtual Communities

Learning and Development on a Backchannel

Lately,  I have been thinking a lot more about backchannels for learning and development (L&D) as I chat with folks involved with networked communitiesIn education, there is no doubt you have heard about a backchannel for learning, whether it was during a conference or at a professional meeting. You’ve most likely even participated in some sort of backchannel — even BEFORE technology crept into your educational practice. Let’s return to the original meaning of the word, shall we:

Backchannel learning is a “covert” way we are sharing our educational experiences online. It’s like we’re in the back of the classroom passing notes — except now it is digital and openly shared, and (probably) more productive than it was when we were younger. Maybe.

Our digital and connected backchannels allow this note-passing to augment what is happening at a specific moment in time. Today’s backchannels offer a way to showcase professional development opportunities, disseminate scholarly research, distribute resources for practice, curate knowledge from an event, and archive the learning so that it “lives” beyond a geographic location, calendar date, etc.

Et Voila: Pull To Open image c/o Flickr user kpwerker

One popular way to participate in a backchannel during a conference is by using the designated Twitter hashtag when posting tweets [Hashtag: A symbol used in Twitter messages, the # symbol, used to identify keywords or topics in a tweet. The hashtag was an organic creation by Twitter users as a way to categorize Twitter messages and link keywords posted on Twitter.] Here is an example of a study comparing #AERA15 & #AERA16 hashtag usage (Kimmons & Veletsianos, 2016).

Increasingly, I see peers tweet quotes from keynotes, articles from scholars, ideas for practice, and I am often entertained by interactions between colleagues I know — all from the comforts of my home office. With a small travel budget and too much data to collect this summer, I appreciate the ability to jump into this type of backchannel to learn about the conversation as these are rich threads that dig into issues and upcoming trends we see in the field. Additionally, if you’re keen you dip into other types of meetings from other organizations to learn more about how their discipline/functional area could influence your own professional work.

Beyond the typical conference or professional meetings, we also see similar traces of L&D happening on a backchannel to be paired with a webinar, business meeting, streaming keynote, and campus program/initiative.

With new technological affordances, there are many other ways we can create backchannels for learning and ways to develop talent. For example, here is how I use Twitter and WordPress as a backchannel with  first-year seminar class, #ugstSTORY [ARCHIVED CLASS]:

I am impressed to see a number of my colleagues use a number of OTHER technologies that are social and connected to create backchannels for L&D online — here are just a few examples– but there are LOADS to search and discover:

  • #phdchat wiki: This is a PBworks archive is from the initiative of the all the Twitter sharing and discussions hosted with the #phdchat hashtag. This community supported me during much of my doctoral research. There is a wealth of information shared and curated on this wiki site. Although this space has not been edited in over 3-years the #phdchat community lives on. Thanks for moderating and cultivating this community, @NSRiazat.
  • Digital Storytelling 106 (#ds106): is an open, online community/course from the University of Mary Washington by instigator(s) of the domain web (ahem… @jimgroom & @cogdog). Course Requirements: a real computer, a hardy internet connection, preferably a domain of your own and some commodity web hosting, and creativity. TUNE into #ds106 radio streaming: http://ds106.us/ds106-radio/
  • Teaching In Higher Ed PodcastSlack Channel: The wealth of information shared in this podcast since June 2014 is amazing and I’m thankful for how Bonni (@bonni208) brings in various guests to support my own professional development for pedagogical planning and to support my own teaching in higher ed. Beyond this regular audio podcast, she also has a community of listeners who she connects to and with via her Slack backchannel and via Twitter.
  • Virtually Connecting (@VConnecting): The virtual buddies bring a small group of on-site and virtual folks together at professional and academic meetings via YouTube Live (formerly Google+ Hangouts) to have a “hallway conversation” about the relevant issues, conference experiences, and to host a conversation at different conference events. They welcome new virtual friends and typically have a Google form for you to complete in advance to sign-up OR you can watch the wealth of archives from previous V-Connecting sessions on their YouTube Channel. Kudos to, and for starting this initiative.

Thinking About Finding a Backchannel for L&D? Here are a few suggestions for hashtag backchannel communities on Twitter:

OR maybe you want to START your own L&D backchannel? Think about your PURPOSE/GOAL first, and then browse these digital spaces and places for initiating a learning backchannel for your professional interests and development:

What digital spaces do you use for your own learning backchannels? How do you engage in professional development via online backchannels? Let me know!


Kimmons, R. & Veletsianos, G. (2016). Education Scholars’ Evolving uses of Twitter as a conference backchannel and social commentary platform. British Journal of Educational Technology, 47(3), 445—464.

Muñoz, C. L., & Towner, T. (2011). Back to the “wall”: How to use Facebook in the college classroom. First Monday, 16(12).

Collaboration, Learning Community, PLE, PLN

Organizational Networks, Relationships & Sensemaking

In organizational life there are interpersonal networks, within and across organizations, and internationalizational networks, with exchanges of resources, alliances, and shared directors. Network thinking has a long history in sociology , such as the dynamics of triads and the “web of group affiliations.” New constructs such as resources dependence, institutional theory methodology, and computer power encouraged formal methods for network analysis, assessing relationships and structures, and testing new theories.


Networks provide a way to visualize and analyze patterns among relationships of the nodes (parts) and ties to determine distribution of information, resources, energy and authority. This type of network analysis has lead to further review of organization connectedness, including:

  • formal and informal networks among members and units
  • social network analysis to quantify position or importance of actors in the network
  • characterization of technology, industry and product space
  • types of ties among organizations
  • organizational alliances, partnerships & affiliations
  • review networks of organization distinct from functional, divisional or matrix form
  • hybrid of ties among organizational units
  • dynamic networks in industrial districts
  • networks structures and differences depending on economies and politics
  • cross-cultural comparisons of networks
 Practical applications for organizational networks and relationships include application of the following steps for both individuals and organizations:
  1. Setting up a personal learning network (PLN) – developing a PLN to meet your personal and professional goals
  2. Establishing a professional presence online –establishing you digital identity and presences online
  3. Selecting online networks & tools – where to start, tools, tips and social spaces
  4. Finding your voice – developing a sense of self in the community of practice and contributing to that shared community
  5. Network collaboration – being able to weave your online network to learn, grow, curate and contribute


Scott, R. W. & Davis, G. F. (2007). Networks in and around organizations. In Organizations and organizing: Rational, Natural and Open system perspectives, Chapter 11.

Further Readings

Borys, B. & Jemison, D. B. (1989) Hybrid arrangements as strategic alliances: theoretical issues in organizational combinations. Academy of Management Review, 14, 234-249.

Daft, R. & Weick, K. (1984).  Toward a model of organizations as interpretation systems.
Academy of Management Review, 284-295.

Granovetter, M. (1983). The Strength of Weak Ties: A Network Theory Revisited
Sociological Theory, Vol. 1, (1983), pp. 201-233.

Levine, S. and White, P.E. (1961) Exchange as a conceptual framework for the study of interorganizational relations. Administrative Science Quarterly,5: 583-601.

Milliken, F. J. (1990). Perceiving and Interpreting Environmental Change: An Examination of College Administrators’ Interpretation of changing demographics. Academy of Management Journal, Vol. 33, No. 1 (Mar., 1990), pp. 42-63

Park, S. H. (1996) Managing an Interorganizational Network: A Framework of the Institutional Mechanism for Network Control. Organization Studies, 17: 795-824.

Ring, P.S. & Van de Ven, A.H. (1994) Developmental process of cooperative interorganization relations. Academy of Management Review, 19, 90-118.

Salancik, G. R. (1995) Review: WANTED: A Good Network Theory of Organization
Administrative Science Quarterly, Vol. 40, No. 2 (Jun., 1995), pp. 345-349

Weick, K. ( 1993). The collapse of sensemaking in organizations: The Mann Gulch disaster. Administrative Science Quarterly, 38: 628-652

Weick, K., Sutcliffe, K., & Obstfeld, D. ( 2005). Organizing and the process of sensemaking. Organization Science, 16 (4): 409-421.

Learning Community, Micro-Blogs, PLE, PLN, web 2.0

Happy My Twitter Story Day! #mytwitterstory

I often talk about my personal learning network (PLN); however I cannot deny that a large part my PLN is located on Twitter. In honour of the #MyTwitterStory Share event happening today, I will tell you about my Twitter experience, involvement and why I engage. Thanks for your story and initiating the #mytwitterstory blog prompt, @michaelmgrant

Once upon a Twittersphere, there was a Canadian Princess Laura who moved to Texas to for a new job, new place, new academic program, and a new life adventure. While relocating from the metropolitan county of Toronto to to the Dallas realm, she thought it was wise to stay connected to friends, family and colleagues she was leaving behind. Princess Laura was socially connected via Facebook, Skype, blogging, Flickr, LinkedIn and more. Then in August 2008,  she was introduced to Twitter by a new @NACADA friend, Eric Stoller, who wanted to use this tech tool for the 1st  #NACADAtech Seminar.

Although Princess Laura was not quite sure about the 140-character perimeters or the random personal updates, she did fancy the cute little bird and thought she would keep an open mind about it. In the beginning, Princess @laurapasquini decided to lurk on Twitter to figure out why others were using this  social media tool. Through her observation, Princess Laura discovered a couple of great learning opportunities using Twitter (and other social web resources with@courosa ‘s #ECI831 and #CCK09 facilitated by @gsiemens  & @olddaily. While engaging in these open, online classes Princess Laura found the value in connecting to others to share resources, swap ideas, hold discussions and ask questions. Twitter was a space to participate in on-going learning and training initiatives to enhance her personal & professional development. The experiences in open learning courses, conference backchannelsTwitter listshashtag communities, following supportive Tweeters, and the participation in a few of the many Twitter Chats opened Princess @laurapasquini up to the educational potential of the Twittersphere.

By using third-party clients like  Hootsuite Seesmic, Princess @laurapasquini was able to discover the power of micro-blogging with great learning communities such as #edtech, #SAchat, #AcAdv, #SAtech, #HigherEd and MORE!  Princess @laurapasquini continues to archive her tweets & URLs to her Delicious account via packrati.us, which also pays it forward and shares and RTs. Now Princess @laurapasquini places great value in the tweets of others for news, information, trends and happenings for her personal, professional and academic interests.

This Twitter tale really expresses Princess @laurapasquini’s love for her PERSONAL LEARNING NETWORK…

maintaining old and new CONNECTIONS…

and most of the FRIENDS who make her #MyTwitterStory complete.

The End! [Or is it? Follow along for more Twitter tales @laurpasquini.]

Learning Technologies, Needs Assessment, PLE, Social Media

The Measure of Social (Media) Learning

Online impact is more relevant as social web enters into digital learning environments. Both assessment and evaluation of digital resources is critical for supporting learning outcomes and instructional design. Before diving into any sort of online addition to your curriculum, be sure to review both your online content and learning goals.

Flickr photo c/o suavehouse113

It is okay to experiment and get acquainted with a few social media resources; however it is important to start with a needs assessment before implementing new technologies into a learning curriculum or program plan. Here are a few things to consider before as you begin the evaluation of social media tools for learning:

  • Credibility Check your online sources. Are you a critical learner with your social media tools? There is a great deal of sharing in the social web; however not all online content is reliable. Consider what mediums would be most appropriate for the subject, topic and learners. Encourage your learners to develop critical thinking skills on the web for effective methods of search, inquiry and information analysis.
  • Expertise – How many “social media experts” and #fauxperts have you seen online? It is the learning material, not the online tools that will best support your curriculum. The best expertise can be found with an instructional needs assessment and program implementation plan. Consider your learning objectives and planning your best expertise. I recommend the following educational technology associations and networks to support your instructional design and implementation needs: ISTE, AACE, AECT, The eLearning Guild,  and EDUCAUSE.
  • Trust – How do you build trust among learners in your online curriculum? What will help foster a sense of community? The social web creates spaces for online communities to grow and thrive. When building an online learning community it is important to consider communication channels, active participation opportunities, and collaborative networks for learners to find meaning.  
Flickr photo c/o Ev@ 😉
Open Education, PhD, PLE, PLN

This Research is Brought To You By The Letters K, P, H & D

Some of the basics we learned in kindergarten can also be applied to how you learn as an adult. I have been thinking a great deal about how to organize my information and research as a graduate student. I strive to be both an open learner and transparent educator, so let’s see if I can use a few principles from my kindergarten years to explain how.

Share everything

With the ease and cost of the social web it is easy to share with others. Social media applications and resources provide a great community for others to read, publish, and write content online.  In a previous post, I shared how I engage with social media both personally and professionally. The value I get from sharing is that if I pay it forward it often comes back in return. I value ideas, articles, opportunities and challenges that are posted in my PLN. Learning is a continuous cycle.

Don’t take things that aren’t yours.

As a researcher and writer, I am often scanning and reading for a literature review or an article. To quote a common phrase by my faculty advisor – “Publish or perish!” One lesson I learned early in my academic career came from a History faculty who told our class, “You have no original thought. Be sure to frequently cite your sources.” This statement is somewhat true. You might have a great idea; however it has most likely originated from someone or somewhere else.  Using online bibliographic resources like Zotero and Mendeley  are key for my APA-induced world. When I am blogging, creating presentations or sharing in my networks – I often refer to where I get these great resources too. It’s important to give credit, where credit is due.

Live a balanced life.

Remember to nurture yourself. Take the time to attend to your basic “F” needs: family, friends, food, fitness and fun. Although you may be consumed by your academic interests, it’s important to find harmony in your life. As my Niagara University Crew coach said, “If you want to row strong and win the race, you need to be able to balance your boat.”  Balance is critical to sustain yourself and your priorities – do not forget to find time to laugh.

Take a nap every afternoon.

Naps are great. Maybe an afternoon nap is not realistic in your office, however effective sleep-care maintenance can be. Consider taking breaks throughout your day: stand up, leave distraction, and get un-connected for a while. Find a way to hit your refresh button – take a walk, sit in the sunshine, meditate or daydream. These breaks create a space for your mental reserve.

Hold hands and stick together.

Many find the process of the PhD daunting, but just remember: YOU ARE NOT ALONE. I have found a few different groups and spaces to connect to on locally and far away.  to support my learning and research. On campus, I am part of a collaborative doctoral student research group for my program ATPI where we connect weekly IRL and on a wiki/google docs for projects, presentations and publication work. The #phdchat community has been a group I have found helpful to chat with on Twitter and ponder my own process – plus they have some great resources to share on their wiki. Beyond that, I have a connected to the PhD Journey group on Flickr, tagged my bookmarks in a Delicious way, and stay on top of my news and trending information via RSS in a Google Reader. 

Be aware of wonder.

There is always room to learn. Believe it or not, it is not possible to know everything there is to know. That’s what keeps life interesting. I try to open my learning options by staying tuned in to new literature, scanning a myriad of  blogs, listening to a variety of podcast, or connecting to a researcher in a different field then my own.  Don’t let your academic work get dusty.