Sunday, January 25, 2015

My How-to for Open and Connected "Gatherings"

Open and connected courses/seminars/etc. (such as, #MSLOC 430) can at times be chaotic and overwhelming. Every time I participate in open endeavours I come to a point where I feel much more unglued than I feel connected. I still do not have a good term for these flowing, rhizomatically expanding installation-like happenings that reflect group-thinking and group-learning on the evolutionary edge of the language of the Internet. The closest I can come in English is “gathering” – yes open and connected gatherings – across time, space, minds, forms, and forums.
My unglued, disconnected or overwhelmed interior voice, pops up from time to time and sounds something like this . . . .
“I missed what was being referred to there!”
“I don’t know where to look or what to read?”
“What should I be doing now?”
“If only I could read faster, or if only I had more time,  . . . if only, if only, if only!”
Too much is happening, too many platforms, too many threads, too many multi-media mash-ups, tweets, Storifies, blogs, possible readings and watchings and links. The whole “gathering” is too complex, convoluted and dynamic for me or any other singular participant to ever fully absorb.
Sequential navigation techniques (like making a list of what to look at, or making a schedule, or course outline, or step-by-step guide) are not compatible with what happens in open and connected gatherings.
So, why?
Why host anything that is open and connected?
Why participate in open and connected sessions?
My answer (other people’s answers will vary) is that Open Connected Gatherings are constantly evolving, thus forcing me to engage fully in a sense-making journey that extends my capacity for thinking and for sharing the products of my thinking with others. I am simultaneously a spectator and a participant in a fast-paced process that ends up being a thrilling learning extravaganza and connection-fest (thanks to @SeanAJones for assisting me in figuring out how to articulate this). 
My experiences have led me to the conclusion that it is both impossible and inappropriate for me to try to “keep up” or fully absorb what is likely to happen. Unlike conventional “courses” keeping up and being comprehensive is not the point! There are several metaphors that help illustrate the folly of trying to fully absorb all that is available.  Two of which are:
  • A buffet – great to sample many items, wonderful to be invited to, and foolish to try and consume everything on the table.
  • A fire hose/stream – I can drink from it only if I sip a tiny fraction of the flow and return later when I need/want more. 

My current guidelines (which are far from static – they evolve and shift every time I participate in a gathering and they evolve as I participate) for experiencing open and connected learning deeply and not becoming overwhelmed are:
  • dedicate some time each day to sample what is happening (be kind and accepting of myself when, inevitably, I miss my goal of everyday)
  • don’t worry about missing things (if they are important enough they will be mentioned again by my network – this is a collaborative undertaking and other people i.e. my PLN will help me notice when something important occurs or they will inform me of things that would be of particular interest to me)
  • focus on connections and constructive feedback on other peoples blogs etc. (ie comment with care and attention on other people’s material, call other people’s attention to items I think they would be interested in – notice the reciprocity here with the bullet above - @tanyalau and Stephen Downes @oldaily helped me understand this)
  •  offer up my own reflections (they can be short and sweet) via Twitter, or my blog, or . . .
  • give credit to others and link as many items and people as I can
  • tweet lots using the hashtag (check the Twitter hashtag often)

photo credit:


  1. Great tipS! Esp re trusting the community to repeat imp stuff

    1. It was a huge learning and relief when I realized I could count on others to assist in noticing important information. It is always a thrill to see it at work and so far it has not let me down. It is part of the importance of having a PLN you both nurture and trust!

  2. Hi Maureen - enjoyed reading your post and depiction of the open, connected learning experience - it really is as you've described : chaotic, at times confusing and overwhelming...but also amazingly rich and mind expanding, stimulating and rewarding. Agree that thereis absolutely no point in making to do list or study schedule or anything of that nature - there's no such thing as 'keeping up', and that certainly isn't the point. I fibd my best bet is to scan the twitter hashtag each day, faving and exploring links that look interesting. Then commenting on blogs - not just an idle comment then leave, but to try to engage in conversation. Or if there is a primary discussion platform (eg G+ worked well for xplrpln...whereas discussions in rhizo14 tended to congregate on FB...), engage in conversation there. Blogs or discussion platforms tend to allow deeper conversations and issues to be explored; twitter is good for sparking and starting them. Look fwd to more mental taffy pulling with you!

  3. Tanya, I will openly admit that I really look forward to and count on you giving feedback. You do such a wonderful job of showing that you really absorbed and thought about the intention of the post. You both analyze and synthesize. Your comments virtually always provide an opportunity for further engagement. I have learned a great deal from your modelling.
    I am pretty consistent in scanning the hashtag of "gatherings" that I am participating in/with but I have not really utilized faving and then returning - something new for me to try - thx BTW I have notice this is a technique used by @Bali_Maha

  4. Awww...thanks Maureen for the lovely comment - I really appreciate it! I have to say, I genuinely enjoy responding to people's blog posts - I have been trying to figure out for years why I find this so effortless...whereas actually writing a post myself (on my own blog) ...much more painstaking. I think it has something to do with beinv part of a conversation (when commenting) vs 'broadcasting' (blogging)...I'm somehow less self conscious, and it just feels much more organic, the stakes seem lower on someone else's blog. I think.I need to start collating my blog comments and remixing them into blog posts! ( there's an idea...!!).
    Istill haven't topped your poetry comment though...(although our rhizo poetry collab came pretty close!)

    Btw...I am good at faving things on twitter..but don't always manage to come back to them!aha is amazing - she always seems like she's everywhere at once - her boundless enthusiasm and energy is infectious and inspiring!

  5. sorry for the typos btw...I'm commenting via phone. The last bit was about Maha (Bali) in case you missed it...

  6. Agreed - I would encourage anyone reading these comments to follow @bali_maha I secretly think there is more than one of her (perhaps even identical triplets!)
    I have in the past created blog postings from a mashup of my own comments on other people's blogs (including comments I have made on your blog It actually helps my thinking process to review my comments and other peoples' comments and then synthesize and summarize.

    1. hmmm...well this is how I might just post for #msloc430...!

  7. Interesting post and interesting conversation on comments.

    I ended up with a similar though, keep track of my comments. They are a form of curation since when you comment implicitly you give some appreciation and you relate to your concerns. One more script to write :(

    When you comment you just react to someone else writing so there is less tension. No need to search for a topic, promote it. The post exists already, you don't need to write 500 words. Still you add value, more perspectives.

    Eventually, the comment may prompt a post of your own so it's really all benefit.

  8. Bruno,
    Thanks for your comments, To me a post only really comes to life when others have added to it in the form of comments. My thoughts can rattle around in my own head but having others react or reacting to others' views really helps me sort and clarify. I firmly believe that the interactions or connections themselves are a form of thinking (yes to George Siemens and Stephen Downes on this one!). I think your observation of less tension being present when reacting than when creating from scratch is very astute. More value and more perspectives are always welcome.

  9. Maureen - Thanks for writing this post. You named so many of the feelings I've had while participating in several cMOOCs. Especially this..."Every time I participate in open
    endeavours I come to a point where I feel much more unglued than I feel connected." I have found that when I have this unglued feeling, I sit back and figure out one action I can take to make the massiveness feel smaller and more intimate. When I was in #edcmooc this took the form of hosting a google hangout with a few people who ended up becoming an amazing learning community within a learning community. In #futureed it took the form of having a video conference call with one participant I had found via Twitter who had a similar professional role to mine at another university. Both of these things helped to ground me.

    When Jeff Merrell announced that he was going to run an open version of his #msloc430
    course, I actually started feeling unglued just thinking about participating given all of the other things on my plate right now. I just sat with that for awhile and then reminded myself that I have control over my experience and can define my own learning goals. I can be gentle with myself so that if all I can do is monitor the twitter hashtag one week, that will be just fine. There will always be a ton on my plate but when I look back at the past several years I can say that participating in these open gatherings has been incredibly fulfilling and I don't remember that the dishes didn't get done or that a task on my to-do list lingered longer than normal. I remember the connections I made and the new things I've learned.

    I do wonder, though, how many people never get to this state of being okay with the firehose. How many people are missing out on the serendipity and connection that happens because the initial feelings of inadequacy and overabundance just turn them off. And what does it mean for the rest of the people who stick it out that those voices aren't in the mix?

    And how might we build into the design of these experiences/gatherings a way to support these folks? I'm picturing some sort of a virtual gathering early on in this sort of course where people who have more experience with this type of thing share their own feelings and experiences and help others give themselves permission to choose a small learning goal and be okay with that. Or perhaps some way to volunteer to be a buddy to someone who is new. Just thinking out loud here.

    Just by writing this blog post you have helped others I'm sure. I need to finish cooking dinner so am signing off without triple checking what I wrote in the spirit of sharing half-baked ideas (hat tip to Jeff Merrell) --

  10. I meant to share a post I wrote about drinking through the online firehose as part of my #futureed participation:

  11. Keeley,
    It is so rewarding to get such a full and heartfelt response. Yes, I specifically wrote the blog in the hopes that by saying "sometimes the emperor is not wearing any clothes" (i.e. this feels too crazy and too much!) that it would help newbies and that other more experienced cMOOCers would be able to relate and would join in to share their experiences and to support each other as we all make sense of things and weave in and out of full, partial, and non-participation.
    I too looked at the #MSLOC430 invitation and thought "no way" I am in the middle of a thesis and have several other major commitments (I wrote, My Take on the Term MOOC, in the Reykjavik airport earlier today and will be incommunicado on a leadership course Feb. 8 -13. This illustrates at a couple of things.
    1.) I feel the value I get out of participation is so high that I will make it happen
    2.) It is OK to plan to be more "present" at certain times than others
    I love your - figure out one intimate action - solution. I particularly like the intimate and shared component of it. It reinforces once again the importance of connection. Looking forward to reading you firehouse post (once I recover somewhat from jet lag)