I am at a workshop of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Commission on Education and Communication (CEC) in the Scottish Highlands (beautiful, yet not the best place to be when an Icelandic Volcano erupts.) CEC is one of IUCN's 6 expert Commissions, which are global knowledge networks of individual practitioners that contribute to the organization's conservation and sustainability work.
CEC aims to innovate; it is the learning and education-focused network within the IUCN system. New tools, social media, innovative learning has always been an area of exploration for the CEC. For example, in September 2007, it held a workshop on New Learning for the Arab Region at the Library of Alexandria in Egpyt where we looked at all kinds of social media and technologies. CEC makes an effort to test and model new tools and technologies in its work.
This meeting has been no exception, thanks to Posterous (self proclaimed as the "dead simple place to post everything"). We have been experimenting using Posterous as workshop support and it has been working brilliantly, making us virtually paper free, helping with simultaneous reporting, and providing practically instant feedback on group work and planning. Here's how we have been using it:
- We opened the free Posterous account prior to the event and restricted the membership to the participants, closing inputs and accessibility to those attending.
- We sent out an initial email to participants with the URL and information on how to use that, so they had it prior to (if they had time) and upon arrival, and asked them to bring their laptops to the meeting.
- We arranged for wifi in our room and helped everyone get on, then we demonstrated Posterous on the first day and had everyone make their first post (posting is done through email message. e.g. email@example.com.)
- Then we were off!
- No More USB Keys - Presentation Support: There was an updating/reporting session of the beginning of the agenda where people reported on what they had been doing. We asked people to send their PPT to Posterous first (not before they arrived, just before they presented.) We had Posterous open on our screen in the front of the room, and people could either show their PPT through Posterous, or not and simply refer to it, so that people could look at it later. So no multitude of USB keys, no swapping computers, and no asking after the fact for people's slides sets or sending them around by email (or worse, printing them and handing them out).
- Instant Stars - Real time photos/videos: At ramdom points during the meeting, someone with an I-Phone (me in this case), took short videos asking people for opinions about the meeting, or talking about their inputs, as well as photos, and immediately sent them to Posterous as an attachment to an email for people to see and hear as the meeting progressed. They uploaded in a minute to Posterous and were embedded within the blog space, complete with title and tags.
- Nothing Lost - Group work immediately captured in different formats: No longer do people need to take flipchart paper home to type up group reports (or lose), nor stay up at night to do it. We had people in small groups type results directly into Email as they were being produced and at the end of their group work, post them to Posterous. We also had people photo their flipcharts and send the photo. You could even use your phone to video one of your group members talking through the flipchart and post that to Posterous. All this happens simultaneously. We also did our workplanning like this and it is the first time I have left a meeting where all the workplans are done and on the web, accessable to all, and forming some kind of "officialness" that helps tracking and generates commitment. (And can be tagged to organize)
- Meeting Done, Reporting Done (Collectively): If everyone is posting things as they are being created - including discussion products, workplans, photos, videos, and attachments, interesting URLs - when you walk out at the end of the meeting, the reporting is effectively done. There is perhaps a short tie-it-together synthesis, but all the documentation produced is already there.
We are just about to end our meeting, and no paper has been circulated, no flurry of USB key swaps, or promises to send around this or that. It's done, organized neatly on the simple Posterous interface, and we all have access to all the inputs, products and materials, to get on with once we return home. And we all contributed to it, through the simple means of email.