Many years ago I worked with a woman who, each year, made a poster of sorts at New Year’s time. These posters were visual summaries of her year – key events, people, places, and ideas – and they served as a way for her to reflect on the year gone by and prepare for the year ahead. It occurs to me now that she was way ahead of her time. Those posters were a type of personal infographic, before we knew what an infographic was (just take a look at these 2012 New Year’s infographics!).
So as 2012 winds to a close, and 2013 approaches, I will attempt my own year-end poster, in the form of a blog post – a look back at my 2012 learning harvest, as I prepare for 2013, and an attempt to make my own learning as transparent as possible. To honor the importance of personal learning networks, I will acknowledge along the way, the people who were mentors, advisors, thought-leaders, and role models to me (even if they didn’t know it).
Score for the Tablet. In 2012, I added an iPad 2 to my technology tool box and, whoa doggies, have I put it through its paces. During our summer trip across the U.S. it was our GPS, our connection with friends and family, as well as the primary way we foraged for food, gas, and lodging. With the addition of a Logitech keyboard, it’s become my primary note-taking device at conferences and in meetings. I read on it, look up (and archive) recipes, send texts, take photos, edit videos, and use its timer. Its portability and size makes it extremely useful. Interestingly, I often find myself touching the screen of my laptop, expecting it to respond to my finger.
An ever-deepening understanding of online, 3D, virtual worlds. With my friend and travel guide, Liz Dorland, I got to know many new virtual worlds – exploring, touring, meeting new people, and trying new adventures. These are crazy, weird and wonderful places with all kinds of learning going on. I am certain we’ll all be shopping, learning, browsing, and interacting in online virtual worlds in the not-too-far-distant future. If you haven’t yet explored a virtual world (e.g. Kitely, OpenSim, Jibe, Second Life), set that as a 2013 treat for yourself. It’ll stretch you in ways you can’t imagine.
If our WIC patients can do it, anyone can. In 2012 we concluded a health promotion research project with Boston Medical Center called Women in Control (WIC). This project examined the efficacy of using virtual worlds for patient education and healthcare behavior support (earlier blog post). What I learned from that experience could fill a hard drive, but here are the most important learning highlights: the intractable nature of type 2 diabetes, the power of virtual spaces for group support sessions, and the resilience of the women in this study. Our WIC patients were 40-60 year-old women with raging type 2 diabetes and low literacy who had rarely (if ever) touched a computer before they enrolled in our study. And there they were, teleporting around, chatting, and dancing in virtual space as avatars; rolling with the complexities and figuring it out. It was a delight to observe their learning and the way that mastering such a complex environment gave them confidence and new-found personal power.
The importance of documenting and publishing your work. Through the work we did at BMC and the strong leadership of Dr. John Wiecha, Dr. Suzanne Mitchell, and Dr. Milagros Rosal, I learned the importance of documenting what you’re doing along the way, and then reflecting on that as a learning path. As we planned the various projects we simultaneously planned the documentation. I learned to think in terms of what artifacts, recordings, measurements, and documents we would need in order to evaluate our progress, make adjustments along the way, and then thoughtfully, precisely, and usefully share what we learned. And we now have an impressive portfolio of published articles, sound recordings, photo logs, blog posts, and magazine features that explain the project and the results, a vivid record of what we all learned together.
Amplify your signal and build community via the network effect. I know, I know, it’s a familiar riff, but one I can never get enough of it. My friend Marjorie R. Williams co-authored a book called Markets of Paris, 2e this year. It’s a good book (a very good book) but she made it even better by launching, and then grooming, an impressive online presence to compliment the book. Her website, blog, Facebook page, Pintrest board, and Twitter stream not only allowed her to post updates, additions, and supplemental information but it gave her readers the chance to join in community, share their experiences, provide suggestions, correct items in the book, and enhance everyone’s enjoyment of Paris’s markets. So nicely done.
The reach and impact of massive, open, online education (MOOCs). In the fall I took an online Modern and Contemporary American Poetry course taught by Dr. Al Filreis and a phalanx of graduate students at University of Pennsylvania (via Coursera). It was a terrific learning experience (summary blog post) and a breath of fresh air to confirm that innovation is alive and well in higher education. The speed with which some of our greatest institutions have jumped on the online learning bus and urged faculty to create courses is impressive. Of course, we have a long way to go and not all MOOCs are exemplars, but these are interesting times.
Hope for improving education from within. Gardner Campbell, George Siemens, Alan Levine, Cathy Davidson, David Knuffke, Nancy White, Bonnie Stewart…whether they knew it or not, they have all been valued guides for me this year. I’ve watched and listened to them participate in online communities, networked seminars, discussion groups and forums, and soaked up their blogs. They are all intensely committed to improving education and they all walk their talk from within – advising, guiding, suggesting – while they practice. As Gardner Campbell says in a recent blog post of his, “I’m convinced that we can find that rich soil beneath the pavement…and demonstrate that those brave flowers knew something afterall.”
The value of beginner’s mind. Perhaps the most significant of my lessons learned in 2012 is the importance of remembering the click and whir of the beginner’s mind. We moved from Massachusetts to California this year – put all our stuff in a moving van and moved to a new home and a new neighborhood. With the million and one small connections that make up daily life cut asunder, we began the process of figuring it out and rebuilding. Where’s the post office, how does the parking work, where should the cereal boxes go, what day is trash pick-up, what’s the shortest route to the freeway? Each day I woke up with a long list of things to figure out and mental maps to construct. There are so many options and possible paths when you lack knowledge, as opposed to the carefully honed path of the expert. It was exciting, but it was also exhausting. I was working hard and felt frustrated over my mind’s inability to suck up information, store, and retrieve it quickly enough. I want to hold tight to those feelings and remember them well the next time I’m building a learning experience for someone else.