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September 25, 2014 |

This post brought to you by Mimi’s meandering reflections + Jamieson’s data wizardry

Warning: Post is both LONG and META

This summer, I was part of program that invited teens in some of our local LA libraries to take part in fun networked learning opportunities, including digital storytelling activities designed by Connected Courses’ very own @Jonathan_Worth. Most were reluctant to share on the open Internet unless they thought their photos were really good. Many were reluctant to share at all. They enjoyed seeing the stream of photos flowing through the aggregated Instagram and Flickr feeds on the Phonar Nation site, posted by enthusiastic net savvy participants in the phonar world at large. Despite the encouragement of local mentors, they didn’t see themselves are part of that world and ready to contribute, at least not yet. These same kids were happy to share with their local community, and by the end of the summer were being coaxed to post some of their work online.

I’ve been reminded of these quietly cautious kids in my first weeks of ccourses, when I also happen to be listening to Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts as my walking-the-dog book. I’ve thrilled in watching the growing blog count and the lively #ccourses tweet stream, and unexpected wonders being generated by generous contributors.Comics!Visual Note-taking!A Folding Story! A G+ community! Diigo! Ridiculously thoughtful seemingly instantaneous blogging synthesis of live events! My excitement quickly turned to terror as I watched the social media stream turn from a trickle to a whole web of lively tributaries, and I went running to help to @cogdog. Help! How do I know what to pay attention to?? Thank goodness for my more experienced co-facilitators and the power of co-learning.

Alan offered some tech tips for managing feeds, but most importantly, the first suggestion he had was, “Give up keeping up and following everything.” And around then Mia posted a lovely suggestion that we consider the course a “guilt-free learning zone” in response to Kevin breaking through the lurker wall. My threat-sensitive, self-monitoring, introvert, barely-blogs-a-couple-times-a-year self breathed a sigh of relief (read Quiet if you need a decoder for the personality terms).

I started digging into a few backstage projects like designing a survey and reading Richard and Josipa’s new book cover-to-cover, and ruminating on the implications for Connected Courses. Oh and just trying to keep the trains running with the most awesome staff at the DML Hub while we try to build a plane that’s already flying with 20 volunteer co-pilots in just as many institutions. This has all been joyfully meaty work that I’ve enjoyed tremendously, while feeling the pull of the fragments of notes that I am meaning to weave into a blog posts and all the collegiality on the social stream that I know I’m missing.

I’ve so appreciated observing and learning from my more experienced online co-facilitators as they surf the rapids; Howard exercises his super powers of attention literacy and net smarts, Helen keeps a highlights reel going on #whyiteach, while @MiaZamoraPhD gently points me to some relevant conversations. I don’t even know what to say about @cogdog Alan who apparently can comment on blogs and make a GIF while hosting a live event. (By the way I have reason to believe that “Alan” is actually a composite character being orchestrated by at least 5 different puppet masters who manage the blog, tweet stream, comments, geekery, and world travel in shifts. I also suspect the same of @dogtrax “Kevin.” Here’s a clue that in fact the same “xdogx” people may be behind both “Alan” and “Kevin.”) I’m also in awe of the folks who have stepped up to take the lead in creating content and facilitating – @Bali_Maha, @trainersleaders, @EatcherVeggies, @paulsignorelli, @sensor63, @Profrehn, @telliowkuwp, @kneefin, @OnlineCrsLady, @mdvfunes (and so many other who I’ve missed because I don’t have the attentional super powers of Howard.)

In many ways these different forms of participation fit into what Internet product people might call an > engagement funnel where newcomers and the less net savvy like me march steadily from awareness to engagement to becoming active contributors and content generators. With enough exposure and engaging offerings, we will get pulled into the vortex and become “Alan.” Or maybe you prefer a construct like “ communities of practice,” where learners can be “legitimate peripheral participants,” and gain knowledge from the more experienced at the core of the community.

But that doesn’t really tell the full picture of Connected Courses. Unlike becoming a contributor to Wikipedia or YouTube, Connected Courses is a veritable cornucopia of ways of participating with no central platform. And unlike a community of practice, there is an abundance of different forms of expertise and practices, and social norms that are colliding through a loosely orchestrated cross-network remix, immersive theater where participants are all experiencing a different narrative. Its not a funnel or even a community with coherent practices, but a hybrid network, more like a constellation that looks different based on where one stands and who one is. I love that @Bali_Maha is the life of the Twitter stream but feels burdened by the course readings, while I might knock down a few books in preparation for a live session but neglect to read a blog or tweet for a couple days. And I can invite colleagues who don’t have a twitter account or blog to share their work for an hour, and they leave feeling appreciated and stimulated. The co-design of this course into units led sequentially by different facilitators also enables us to enrich the constellation and provide not just a funnel of engagement, but ways of inviting people in to more time-delimited forms of participation.

This heterogeneity can feel like chaos and collision of competing styles and expectations, but I also see it as a site of productive tension that is characteristic of connected learning. Connected learning is predicated on bringing together three spheres of learning that are most commonly disconnected in our lives: peer sociability, personal interests/affinity, and opportunities for recognition. In kids’ lives these are friends, interest-based activities, and school. In connected courses, this is the reciprocity and fun in the social stream, our personal interests and expertise, and institutional status/reputation.

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People tend to enter into connected learning environments through one of the other of these spheres and the model welcomes people with different dispositions and orientations to learning. This means that there are on-ramps to connected courses for the vast majority of faculty who may not have, as @digisim writes, the confidence or the interest in teaching out in the open. But the best learning experience brings the spheres together in dynamic tension; when you can begin to appreciate and embrace the value of each of these spheres, growth happens. Cain describes how she went to an event that was designed specifically for quiet sensitive types, and while she enjoyed being able to connect with folks with a shared disposition, she found herself missing the productive tension and synergy of having extroverts in the mix. I could play this analysis out more, but this blog post is getting too long and nerdy, and I still have some data to share.

Our most awesome community manager Jamieson Pond, the man behind @dmlresearchhub has kindly pulled together some stats that indicate some of this heterogeneity. I will end with some sharing of this, and we might hear more data wizardry from Jamieson in due course. So consider this a preview. We are still struggling with how to capture some of the complexity of the activity of connected courses. We’d welcome leadership and collaboration on this emerging research, and some folks are beginning to discuss on this G+ topic (and probably other places I don’t know about). But here’s a few indicators from us stage hands to get things started. “Alan” has already put together the leaderboard for Twitter, which is up on the course site, so I won’t rehash that here. But let’s pause to appreciate @sensor63 and @Bali_Maha who are in a neck and neck race for greatest contributor!

Here’s some analysis of some contact points between different modes of participation, the tweet stream and the webinars. You’ll see that, not surprisingly, the tweet stream lights up during the live events which are moments of orchestrated shared attention.

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It’s difficult, without a bit more digging to know whether there are different participants for these different genres of engagement, to support my theory that Connected Courses is supporting a diversity of practice and styles of participation. But there a few ways we look at the forms of participation. If we look at the stats from the website, we can get a bit of a view into new and sticky viewers. We can see that so far about half our visitors are new, and that the spikes, again come with the live events. If we put this in terms of the conventional engagement funnel, we have 5K+ viewers, 768 subscribers, and 216 contributors through syndicated blogs and twitter feeds. Our “open” rate on the emails to subscribers is a whopping 50.7% compared to the industry standard of 16.7% which means we have a pretty darn good conversion through the funnel going for us.

The picture is more complicated than that though, because we have 836 Twitter contributors to #ccourses more globally. And where would we put participation of say a webinar guest like Bill or Vera who helped design and will support the survey, Jamieson who tracks analytics and produces the live events, or a facilitator who put together the community guidelines or maybe participates intensely for just their unit? These are not folks who would be at the bottom of the social media engagement funnel, but in a different place in the constellation.

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Taking a look at the YouTube stats possibly gives us a view into the more quiet participants. You can see that the video views steadily grow over time, and thus have a different temporality of engagement than the social firehose. These are just a few imperfect windows into the complexity of forms of participation that we are seeing emerge.

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I look forward to continuing to be surprised, terrified, overwhelmed and learning as a result from all of the new ways of contributing and engaging that are sparking across the constellation of Connected Courses. I hope that we can continue to embrace the abundance and diversity of forms and intensity of engagement while also guiding each other to try something new, to slow down or speed up our default metabolism, or appreciate a new perspective or geekdom. I know Howard wakes up in the morning worried that a co-pilot has fallen asleep at the wheel or that the delicate social machinery we’ve stitched together is going to fall apart. We may not be too big to fail, but I would like to believe that we are too diverse to fail and distributed to fail. Living at the collision of multiple CoPs, funnels of engagement and streams means that we can all find a way to succeed!