Tag Archives: virtual

PLN? Unconference? Virtual learning

Maha Bali’s excellent article entitled Living the Unconference Life – a Form of Praxis?  has me nodding and highlighting like a crazy woman. In fact I may as well jump straight into the disclaimer that I’ll be quoting her extensively in this post while I tease out some of my own experiences in unconference-like practices.

What are the differences between traditional conferences and less structured, more informal opportunities for professional development – unconferences?

What might we get from a traditional conference?  Maha mentions “gaining visibility through presenting or discussing our work, receiving feedback, meeting people outside of conference sessions and jotting down contact details for further contact.” But, as she says, once the conference is over, that’s basically the end of it.

Whereas unconferences are “all about connectivism, and I’m going to suggest this lifestyle is a form of praxis.”

A form of praxis.

Maha said it, and I’ve also been more and more convinced about this, but more from me later.

Maha identifies some of the special things about unconferences:

  • the opportunity to get up close and personal with some of the speakers you admire and would not normally get a chance to talk to
  • a chance for everyone to feel like they can contribute to everyone else’s learning
  • a chance for people to set their own agenda
  • a chance for people to take that agenda where they wish
  • break-down of the traditional conference hierarchy
  • a chance to encourage the agency of participants without the feeling they will be evaluated (in the same way as contributing by submitting a paper and running a session)

Maha mixes everything up.  And why not if it improves learning experiences? She talks about the time she implemented an unconference in a formal workshop within a conference and in a faculty development event and observed the following:

  • the energy in the room soars
  • people feel they can share their learning in a relatively egalitarian atmosphere
  • everyone is learning from everyone else about topics they are interested in
  • people are creating their own agenda instead of following someone else’s
  • it’s high impact learning in a very short time frame

So what does it mean to live the unconference life? Maha identifies social media and connectivist MOOCs as central to this kind of life. The PLN (personal learning network) is another way of doing similar things –  seeing what the people you are connected to are discussing, jumping into their hashtagged conversations, following conferences on Twitter, reading what they’ve shared about conferences in their blogs. This is the kind of learning which has, for years now, directed my learning and nourished my need to connect to people interested in ongoing conversations, and I am one of so many others. Unlike conferences, this kind of learning is continuous and through it we get to know people better over time. It gives us the opportunity to build our understanding of things with people, it exposes us to the diversity of their thoughts and expands our own knowledge.

Maha and I have something in common. We want to be involved in so many conferences but are geographically disadvantaged – she’s in Cairo, Egypt, I’m in Melbourne, Australia. Maha also has a young child but this doesn’t stop her from being arguably the most engaged person in the conference/MOOC world. She’s there in the hashtagged Twitter discussions, in the Google Hangouts, in the Facebook groups, and recently she took her involvement to a new level by experiencing conferences virtually through a buddy.  Alan Levine also wrote a great post about the conference buddy experience.

I do attend local conferences and live events, I love getting out and seeing other schools and school libraries, and talking to people about what they do. But on a daily basis my PLN and unconferencing life feeds my personal and professional need to learn and keep learning from people. Like Maha has stated, so much of value feeds directly into my practice as a teacher librarian. It feeds, it stimulates, expands, challenges and keeps on doing these things daily. You might say I can’t live without it – couldn’t imagine living without it.

Is it just an internal thing? I don’t believe it is. Maha realises the same thing:

But I realized something. Praxis is about the thoughtful, reflective action that we take, not just the action. And I realized something really important: we take action  every day in our lives. But it may not be thoughtful or reflective. And here’s what connectivist MOOCs and engaging with other educators on social media has done for me: it has made me constantly reflective. People often talk about social media as a form of information overload, as hyper alertness, as attention deficit, and it gets described as if it’s a superficial kind of engagement.  This has not been my experience. When we engage with social media in thoughtful ways, when we interact with others with similar interests, and open our minds to engaging with each other’s ideas and practice deeply, we’re helping make our day-to-day action a form of praxis, because we are constantly reflecting on it with others.

I looked up praxis on Wikipedia for a quick summary:

Praxis is the process by which a theory, lesson, or skill is enacted, embodied, or realised. “Praxis” may also refer to the act of engaging, applying, exercising, realizing, or practicing ideas. This has been a recurrent topic in the field of philosophy, discussed in the writings of Plato, Aristotle, St. Augustine, Immanuel Kant, Søren Kierkegaard, Karl Marx, Martin Heidegger, Hannah Arendt, Paulo Freire, Ludwig von Mises, and many others.

I agree with Maha that this constant engagement and reflection makes us lifelong learners in the truest sense and that my life, too, has become one continuous and wonderful unconference.

I suppose that this kind of learning started with the creation of my blog, Brave New World, in May of 2008, and my leap onto Twitter even before November of 2009 (as stated in my Twitter profile) because I somehow managed to delete my entire Twitter account the first time around and had to start again from scratch. I don’t think I could list all the hashtags I’ve followed on Twitter, but some of the most important ones are associated with communities of people I want to keep learning from and with, for example, #vicpln (started by Judith Way for a specific course and still going strong as a local community hashtag), #austl, #tlchat (both library-related communities). More recently I’ve expanded my online networks to include people taking part in MOOCs such as #ccourses, #moocmooc and #rhizo15.

So my questions is:

How do I show this kind of learning and praxis to my colleagues, to the teachers at my school? It still feels like I’m living a secret life or at least that it’s the invisible alternative life. How do I show others – without being intrusive or condescending (this is great, I know what I’m talking about) that it’s easy to connect to people and events online and that this world is just as real as the external world of work? In fact, in many cases I know more about  people I’m connected to  online than I do of staff at my own school.

How do we change our behaviours in a system that doesn’t change?


Are we teaching our students the skills they need for their future?

Are we teaching our students the skills they need for their future?

Do we know what these are and if we do, are we aligning these to our curriculum? Are we making the shift necessary for this to happen?

Dr. Tony Wagner, co-director of Harvard’s Change Leadership Group has identified what he calls a “global achievement gap,” which is the leap between what even our best schools are teaching, and the must-have skills of the future: * Critical thinking and problem-solving * Collaboration across networks and leading by influence * Agility and adaptability * Initiative and entrepreneurialism * Effective oral and written communication * Accessing and analyzing information * Curiosity and imagination


Here are the 10 future work skills identified by The Institute for the Future for the University of Phoenix Research Institute.

  1. Sense Making
  2. Novel and Adaptive Thinking
  3. Transdisciplinary
  4. Social Intelligence
  5. New Media Literacy
  6. Computational Thinking
  7. Cognitive Load Management
  8. Design Management
  9. Cross Cultural Competence
  10. Virtual Collaboration

For teacher librarians, these skills clearly identify our areas of expertise at a time when some principals are making decisions to reduce staffing in school libraries, or replace teacher librarians with librarians or technicians, indicating their loss of faith that teacher librarians are an essential part of the teaching staff. Our strength lies in working with teachers to embed these skills in student learning, to encourage collaborative platforms and relational learning through the connections made possible by social media platforms, to embed critical, digital and information literacies into student learning.

Read more about the skills our students must have for their future here and here. Please share more if you have them.

Judith Way’s Virtual Aussie Libraries Tour

This has been cross-posted from the Melbourne High School Library blog.

I am privileged to have as a friend Judith Way. Judith makes things happen – I’ve said this before. As soon as I heard she hit on the idea of a virtual library tour I knew it was going to be good. And it is. Take a look here.

Thanks to everyone for sharing photo of your gorgeous libraries – so many ideas for those of us who are thinking about how we can improve our library spaces. And thanks to Judith for going to the effort of putting this project together.  It’s one step towards bridging the distances between all our libraries and sharing library design ideas.

Historypin looks fantastic – have a look at all the different tours.

Prado in Google – a closer look at art


Viewing a Velasquez or a Rembrandt in a place like Spain’s Prado museum is a unique experience. Now you can use Google Earth technology to navigate reproductions of the Prado’s masterpieces, delving even deeper into the Prado’s collection. In Google Earth, you can get close enough to examine a painter’s brushstrokes or the craquelure on the varnish of a painting. The images of these works are about 14,000 million pixels, 1,400 times more detailled than the image a 10 megapixel digital camera would take. In addition, you’ll be able to see a spectacular 3D reproduction of the museum.

You can have this exquisite experience in Google Maps. There are 3 paintings you can currently view here, with a new painting a day after that for the next two weeks. I zoomed into Bosch’s ‘The garden of earthly delights’ and saw some very strange things happening in detail.

If you visit the Prado museum in Spain through Google Earth like I did, you’ll be able to view paintings in high resolution, as I did when I clicked on Goya’s ‘The 3rd of may’.  Here’s what it says once you get there:

We present a virtual tour of fourteen masterpieces from the Museo Nacional del Prado, displayed in ultra high resolution, enabling you to see details of the paintings that have never been seen before. Thanks to the high resolution of the digital images, you can view the whole painting or zoom in on a small fragment. Given the plethora of masterpieces housed at the Museum, choosing which works to include was no easy task but this selection represents the best of the collection.

What a way to learn; you can zoom into these works of art from wherever you are.

Jonathan Jones has a great art blog on guardian.co.uk has an interesting post with the pros and cons of this virtual art gallery.

I’ll get off now so you can get on with the virtual trip.  Have fun.

Confessions of an online junkie

In leaving a comment in a discussion about the balancing act between actual life and online life, I quoted Lauren O’Grady in her blogpost “Hyperconnection!! Arggh this changes everything.. for me anyway” where she talks about a time when a friend made her realise how much her hyperconnectedness was affecting her relationships with family and friends. She also talks about Ariel Meadow Stallings whose addiction to the internet you can read about in her blog. After going to a workshop about finding balance between technology and soul, Ariel decided to unplug one night a week for a year – and then blogged about it (as one does). Her blog includes a video of her 52 nights unplugged on the Today Show. Kind of ironic. Like compensating for internet abstinence by embedding the experience online. Online therapy, if you will.

I have to admit that, since plugging in, my life has also been undeniably affected. I go to bed later, am less fastidious about housework, rarely bake, read less fiction, and never answer the phone! And I’ve started to develop some disturbing habits; I find myself scuttling furtively from blog to Twitter to Facebook to gmail to internet, and so on. And at the end of the day (well, yes, it’s already the next day by then) I find it almost impossible to disconnect cleanly, at least not without a final few rounds of furtive scuttling. Now I ask you – should I be looking at therapy?

I could justify my dependence on being online by saying that there is so much online that is interesting and important for my professional and personal development, but then I would only be saying a half-truth. Not everything I read online is absolutely essential; there are too many tempting forks in the road, and not so much forks as capillaries branching out like fractals. That’s why the question of balance is, for me, an important one while I still have my husband with me, and while I can still get out of the chair. I know I have to do something about it, but I don’t know what. And if anyone says moderation, let me say that I know that I should only eat chocolate in moderation, but how??

Stephen Downes, in his Seven habits of highly connected people, suggests that we should stop wasting time in order to make way for meaningful online time. Surprisingly, he includes in his definition of time-wasting such things as reading and telephone conversations. I had to re-read the paragraph about ‘connection’ a few times to make sure he wasn’t being facetious. I don’t think he was. We should be careful with our definition of what is a waste of time. There are always unproductive periods or times that could be labelled as time-wasting. But these times are hardly insidious. They might be essential for germinating ideas. Creative people – artists, musicians and writers – are not being productive all the time. We all have our ‘down time’, and I’m certain that this is some sort of ‘pause’ mechanism which gives us the break we all need. A reflecting time, a processing time, a human time….

Babelswarm – Art in Second Life

Babelswarm is Australia’s first Second Life arts residency. Recognition of 3D Multi-user Virtual Environments (MUVEs) as a medium for serious art work comes in the form of a grant of AUD 20,000 from the Australian Council, the biggest grant to be awarded for Second Life work. Here’s what the creators of Babelswarm have to say:

‘We will collaborate to develop an inter-disciplinary artwork in Second Life, which converges possibilities of literary, music/sound art and real-time 3D arts practices within the virtual world. There will be a simultaneous installation in Second Life and in a real world gallery, where gallery visitors can be directly involved in its creation via a voice-driven interface”.

It sounds amazing. If you want to go there, you can teleport in.
Here’s what Radio National had to say.
Have a look at the Babelswarm Flickr group.
Desktop magazine asked creator, Chris Dodds of Icon Inc, about his second life and creating virtual art in a virtual world. Dodds answered, “The grant recognises virtual worlds as legitimate environments for artists to work and create in and, while some artistic institutions already have a presence SL and a few have offered residencies, the $20,000 Australia Council initiative is the biggest of its kind.”

“This work, called Babelswarm, will consist of a real-world gallery installation and SL-based interactive sculpture. Participants from both the real world and SL can speak to the artwork and have their words translated into virtual three-dimensional letterforms. These letters then tumble from SL’s sky via a complex set of scripting and voice recognition software. The more words, the higher the tower becomes. The work is to be viewed in a gallery via a wall-sized screen, and in SL by proxy of an avatar. Both real-world and SL-based participants can interact with the work and communicate to each other through the artwork, and the work investigates real and virtual entanglement, language and interaction.”

The work will be launched as part of another Second Life project that Dodds is working on – the Australian Centre of Virtual Art (ACVA). Through this platform he’ll run galleries, host events and develop a permanent archive of virtual art.

Here’s something that Dodds said that made me sit up and listen, “Icon is interested in virtual worlds as the next social and business interface, and we’re formulating a number of ideas. Virtual environments are the next logical progression for mass interaction and collaboration and we’ll be there to enjoy, and hopefully influence, the ride.” For those of us who think that Second Life and other virtual worlds are just games, we should think twice.

“The next decade will see MUVEs having a profound impact on business practices, governance, law, economics, personal relationships, security, anonymity and our overall sense of self and place,” says Dodds.

That’s something to be reckoned with.
I showed my 18 year old son this article. He said, ‘I don’t like it; truth can be controlled in a virtual world’.
Any thoughts?


Originally uploaded by Pathfinder Linden


 The weekend heralded a remarkable journey, fraught with virtual dangers, as I embarked on a Second Life adventure. Embarked, yes – not that I actually arrived at any destination. Yes, I registered, assumed my fantastic identity (as far removed from my real one as possible), but the parallel universe did not agree with me. I lurched and teetered, having failed in transferring my ability to walk into this second life. After some time, I was able to follow a relatively straight line, turn corners without stumbling onto the road or falling into a large body of water. Not satisfied with my ungainly gait, I decided to take up the challenge of controlling a vehicle – how difficult could it be? After all, I do have my licence. Well, as you can imagine, this experience was not without mishap. Driving as if inebriated, I became aware of another’s presence, and before I knew it, a stranger was forcing himself into my automobile! I held on stubbornly, and he finally stopped trying to squeeze his way in, and was later seen driving happily in an alternate vehicle. My adventures did not stop there. I rambled across roads, footpaths, grass, and pavilions, lost and clueless as to my destination, until finally my hapless voyage came to an abrupt end in a spectacular crash.

I may take a break before returning to this strange place.

unreal bookshop


Originally uploaded by tsheko

Two fun ways of looking at books are with Viewzi and Zoomii.  Viewzi is a gorgeous visual search engine offering a variety of searching options. But more about that later… If you choose the Amazon Book search, you get a deliciously large image and synopsis of the book. Zoomii takes book searching one step further – it’s an online book shop, displaying books on shelves under different genres. You can move through the bookshop, browsing through books and clicking on them for information. Even if you don’t end up using Amazon’s book buying options, you will still enjoy this virtual bookstore experience.