Musings on the intersection of training and technology

Monday, July 03, 2006

Living in Possibilities

Nothing like a really beautiful, sunny weekend spent playing with my little girl to remind me not to take myself too seriously. It is always easy to look back over something and think of things that would have been nice to improve. Today I'd rather reflect on what I've gained, and have yet to gain from this experience.

I am realizing that it is not my strength, nor, fortunately, my job to be so intimate with technology to be able to answer the question "How do you make it...?" It is both to be able to ask, "What about...?" And then to brainstorm with some really bright people and turn "how do you make it?" over to those who really love to answer that kind of question. In that context, I think this unworkshop has been quite helpful. It has given me additional exposure to technologies that were already on my radar, and brought them into crisper focus. It has provided me with a filtered set of really great resources/examples that I will revisit and peruse and perhaps even contribute to, assuming the wiki persists. And it has delivered on its greatest promise, that which drew me to the unworkshop in the first place: access to a community of people to share ideas with. I think I have not taken full advantage of this yet, but I believe that, like all relationships, this is something that will evolve. This has been such a unique way to make connections that I imagine that I will continue to reach out to my peers even after the pretext for our conversations has ended. In fact, I expect I'll reach out to some of the people I haven't yet had a chance to talk with, and, given access to additional unworkshop contact lists, perhaps even to past and to future participants...

Sometimes I'm a bit slow out of the gate, but I'm a hanger-on. It's a marathon, not a sprint.

Okay, on to the last assignment: three practical applications of what we've been discussing. In the spirit of "what about...?" I'll tackle this from the perspective of how I'd love to see these technologies applied, whether or not the technologies are there yet.

1) CoPs Close to the Heart

Provide all unworkshop participants, past, present, and future, ongoing access to the unworkshop wiki. Consolidate the profiles pages from the various unworkshops and add the following info for each participant:

  • Column for which unworkshop they attended
  • Links to each person's blogs

Allow people to "opt out" or to delete their info from the CoP.

2) Tagging in the Business World

A lot of my clients have extranet portals for their channel partners. Their extranet tends to be one of their primary ways of communicating with these audiences. Sometimes the portals are well organized and structured. Often they are a mess. However, no matter how well thought out, partners often complain that it's hard to find what they need. It would be great if tagging could be set up behind the firewall to provide:

  • Ability to tag content on the portal using your own terms.
  • Ability to create tags from phrases (more than one word)
  • Option to share tags publicly, or to keep tags private
  • "delicious" like tagging capabilities: select from tags commonly used by other users and/or create your own; provide access to tag clouds and most commonly tagged content; provide ability to view other users tags (if they have opted to share their tags)
  • Formal metadata provided as options to choose from when tagging
  • Regularly spidered documents and auto-generated tags from commonly used terms in the content
  • Easy (one-click) ability for users to "hide" or "demote" or "archive" objects from appearing in their search results (if content is dated or not relevant)
  • Ability to "block" tags from specific users

3) Social Networking and Wikis on the Job

I've used wikis on the job for specific projects and they tend to require a lot of care and feeding. Even with it, my experience has shown that they are not readily adopted. Perhaps the one we used just wasn't user-friendly enough. Perhaps it was because we tried to use it on projects where participants were from multiple companies, which made it all the more difficult to encourage adoption. Perhaps it was largely because it was a new technology, and a tangential one, and it was easier and faster for people to fall back on email. Whatever the reason, as the project work got thicker, and the deadlines closer together, the wiki was quickly abandoned. Yet, I'm not ready to give up on wikis. I think they have incredible potential, and look forward to watching how they evolve and become more widely adopted.

I was encouraged to hear from Peter Kaminski on the success his company has seen in encouraging adoption of their enterprise wiki. Some his comments that stood out to me is that wikis tend to seem harder to use then they really are. Though perception in likely reality in this case, it bodes well for wikis if they can just look and feel more user-friendly. Peter also spoke of how his company encourages the use of multiple wikis, almost used like team sites or email distribution lists, as a way to filter the content and the traffic so that it remains most relevant to the target audience, yet still available for others, as needed. And he referred to the way he personally tends to spend a lot of time on the "recently edited" sections, an approach which seems to lend itself to 1) a strategy for keeping up with the flow and 2) a natural filter that allows dated information to become "archived" as people simply stop touching it. Yet it also spoke to me of the great need to "teach" people to be successful wiki users in order to get the most out of them.

Here are some thoughts on easing the business world into wiki-ways:

  • First, create a social networking wiki internal to the company. Allow people to create their own profile and encourage them to include info about their work experience and interests, as well as comments about appropriate personal interests.
  • Include reviewing the corporate wiki and creating your own wiki profile as part of the week 1 onboarding for all new hires.
  • Next, create organizational team pages in the wiki that describe the group, their mission, processes, access to relevant tools and templates, etc.
  • Evolve to creating cross-functional team pages as part of a project launch to get people on board and give them a central place to keep up to date on the project.
  • Create wiki pages for each of the company‚Äôs clients.
  • Slap on a blog for internal communications to keep people up to date with company news.
  • Add access to podcasts, or recorded meetings, etc.
  • Allow people to set alerts for sections or pages.
  • Push alerts to specific lists of users, such as updated product info out to the sales team, or news of outages to the support desk.

Eventually I'm looking for the wiki to replace the intranet as people become more accustomed to its nimble nature and begin to expect content to evolve more organically and democratically. Keepers of the original intranet could be redeployed as the wiki gardeners to keep it weeded, and as mentors to help people learn to use it effectively.

Here are some things I would like to see integrated with wikis (perhaps some already are?):

  • Wysiwyg editor - including spell-check - no need for users to see or touch html
  • Integrate wiki with a data management tool, so that documents can be pulled from the dm repository rather than stored "within" the wiki. Would provide access to the most current version, as well as the ability to roll back to prior versions.
  • Layer tagging onto a wiki and create a knowledge management tool (personal or otherwise) that is really dynamic.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Theoretically Speaking

Perhaps I have just been dipped so long into the pool of learning theory that my skin is all wrinkly and my patience has run dry.

Growing up, I went to a unique "alternative" high school where we as students influenced our learning experience as much as the teachers. We talked a lot about what is important to make learning successful and what we most needed to walk away with to be successful in life. In high school we called it "learning how to learn." I then attended a unique, "alternative" school for undergrad where this time, we designed our own curricula, talked about "metacognitive awareness," and focused on learning the "methods of inquiry" for various broad schools of thought. (Same thing, more pretentious terms). In grad school, and throughout my career in the learning world, the conversations have continued along the same lines.

Though I would not trade-in any of my educational experiences, formal or otherwise, lately discussions of learning theory strike me as almost self-indulgent. It is lovely to dwell in the realm of possibilities, but I need to focus my energies into attempting to turn those possibilities into reality. Perhaps my impatience is a by-product of a demanding work schedule. Perhaps it is a result of my refusal to compromise time with my family for extending the work day. Perhaps is an indicator that there is just so much to know and follow these days, that there's little time for anything that falls outside the lines of "mission-critical."

Likely this is one of the reasons I spend so little time on class blog. I already get blogs. Would rather be working on when and where and how to incorprate blogs into a client's workflow. Or on resolving some of the questions I'm grappling with for applying these technologies to the work world, like:
  • Do blogs make sense as a dynamic communication tool for a company with a large network of channel partners?
  • How can you best maintain the quality and usability of a wiki?
  • What's the simplest and most effective way to incorporate tagging into an extranet?
  • Could you create a legitimate community of practice with companies who are all in the same field, but who likely view themselves as competitors?
These are the kinds of questions I need to be able to answer, or at least be able to address, before proposing informal tools to my clients. Talking about how to leverage all these tools for my own personal knowledge management isn't quite enough.

I am enjoying the unworkshop but I wish it was a bit more plug and play. I guess this is just a reflection of the maturity of the technologies.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Personal Learning Landscape?

When I was in second grade my teacher held my piucture in front of the class and said, "this is how not to do it". I think that was the last thing I ever drew. So completing the assignment to draw my "personal learning landscape," even if I'd made the time for it, not very likely.

Here are some components of that landscape:
Books, internet, my little cube at the office, nestled in with my colleagues who exchanging tips and troubleshooting issues in between the the jokes and gossip over the cube walls. The world through Anahi's eyes. Dinner time talks with my husband and mother. Lying awake at night downloading my day. Grabbing a coffe with a mentor. IMing with clients and friends. Working with Mark, the Information Architect I rope into all my projects because I couldn't survive without him. Attending workshops, with or without the un. Making things up on the job as I go and discovering what works where.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Aggregator Issues

The unworkshop group set up an aggregator for all of our blogs. My entries show up as titles only, along with a "linkies" pointing back to the blog. I suspect that is because I had changed my site feed settings to provide "short" descriptions rather than full. I've changed it back. Let me click publish and see if that makes a difference.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Awkward Beginnings

Met with the my "unworkshop" group to talk about blogs. Spent most of the time troubleshooting technology: how to use Skype to conference in a regular phone; how to edit your profile; how to manage privacy on a blog (or at least how to create a false sense of security through attempting to manage privacy - whatever info you're trying to protect is likely already out on the ether somewhere).

Also, not surprisingly, mainstream corporate America is not an early adapter of Web 2.0. More than one of us in the group are having issues with IT departments blocking Skype, or not giving us admin access to our computers. We're supposed to be downloading the beta for Skype 2.5 before next online class, but unfortuately, not so easy to do when you can't insall anything on your workstation...

First entry...

So it seems that the hardest part about creating a blog is trying to think of a pithy title. (This will have to do for now.) I'd like to say that "Just in Time" represents the type of learning the training industry is striving for, but in reality it's the way I tend to get things done. Harkens back to doing homework on the bus in high school. The pace of life these days doesn't seem to allow for much more than focusing on priorities and pulling things together just before they're due. Either I am very bad at time management, or very good.