Category Archives: Strategic Innovation

We Launched a Community Events Calendar and You Can Too!

Chicago is known for having one of the richest out-of-school time learning ecosystems in the US. So much incredible work has been done in this city to advance and nurture that ecosystem through collaborative networks like After School Matters (ASM), the Chicago City of Learning (CCOL), Thrive Chicago, Mozilla’s Hive Chicago and others! In particular, CCOL and ASM have done incredible work to make these opportunities visible to young people and adults of influence through online portals, calendars, and searchable databases.

But much of what is true for the needs of young learners is also true for their educators. At the Hive, we believe that exceptional connected learning (CL) experiences for young people begin with exceptional CL experiences for educators. Learning is a lifestyle! The same organizational members of Mozilla’s Hive Chicago Learning Network that provide incredible learning experiences for youth bring that energy and creativity to the professional development of teachers, mentors, coaches, and program providers. Yet, we don’t have a community calendar or online portal for those adults.

In the Hive, we make unmet opportunities just like these our mission. Through our Moonshot challenges, community members document issues that stand in the way of a richer learning ecosystem, then curate and incubate solutions from our community to address them. The Hive-School Connections Moonshot group works to strengthen the connection between Hive and schools. Month after month of discussions yielded repeated feedback from the community: there needs to be a way to make professional development for educators more equitable, accessible, and peer-driven. After some nudging from an enthusiastic student at our Hive Chicago Buzz hack day, and inspired by what Ingenuity has done with their creative schools initiative, the team finally pulled it together and threw down the gauntlet: the Teachers @ Hive Chicago public calendar was born!

Since our launch on August 20th, we’ve already added dozens of events and had some great feedback on the work already!


Our Community Events Calendar

What makes our calendar special? Here’s what what we found were three absolutely key, must-have features:

  • Community-sourced events: you don’t have to be a registered user! Anyone can add events to our calendar. Just go to http://teachers.hivechicago.org/events/community/add/ and try it for yourself. Before it goes live though, someone on our team has to approve it.
  • Rich filtering and sensible categories: teachers wanted to be able to find stuff that worked for them and serves their needs, FAST. So we made sure that whatever we setup would be easily searchable by keyword, category, cost, subject, location, etc.
  • Social media integration: social media is key; social media posts should result from event contributions and events should be easily shareable through social media channels.

That’s it. We used these key features as design criteria and worked to find the best solution, given our tight constraints in budget, staff, and expertise.


And You Can Do It Too!

Our calendar didn’t take a team of developers or a million dollar grant. It took a rag-tag crew of local educators, network staff, and yes, a web developer working together for a couple of hours with WordPress. It’ll cost us under $500 a year to maintain the site domain, hosting and licenses.

So now that we’ve made all the mistakes ourselves, we can share our pro-tips with you. Here are the basic ingredients:

I've highlighted the steps that might need some minor web developer support in this code-y font.

0. User-Centered Design: Community Input, Feedback and Buy-In

Before anyone got code-happy, the calendar development work began in group-discussion at monthly Hive Meetups; it continued in shared-community sessions at Hive Chicago Buzz; and after receiving a modest start-up grant from the Hive Fund, it continued in teacher focus-groups and a Hive Dive workshop. So much about what would make or break this effort was learned by prototyping for feedback from the folks who would use it directly; quoting from the gauntlet-throwing blog post linked above:

Teachers had a lot of other great feedback regarding Professional Development in general. If you are interested in that feedback please click here for the slide presentation based on their comments.

Organizational representatives who attended the Hive PD Calendar Crunch Party also had a lot of great feedback. Our web developer was on deck to answer questions and to take note on the functionality of the calendar and what other possibilities were available in the design.

1. Host A WordPress Site and Pick a Theme

To begin our website build, we added a sub domain to our existing website (i.e. the “teachers” that precedes the hivechicago.org in our URL) and installed WordPress on our server, hosted with Bluehost. This is easy to do using any number of web hosting services like Bluehost, Go Daddy, or others and will cost you somewhere in the range of $100 per year, depending on your options (there’s little or no cost for sub domains).

Once your WordPress site is up and running, pick a theme that works well with your vision for the calendar, your audience, and your brand. We went with the Sela theme because it was clean, simple and put images front and center.

Even if the color scheme isn't quite right to begin with, you can easily edit the theme CSS to use your own custom colors.

2. Buy The Events Calendar Plugins from Modern Tribe

Here’s where most of the cost came from, but we’re in love with the results. Coding something like this from scratch would be a bug-ridden nightmare and cost the budget of a small non-profit in development. So we thank the good people of Modern Tribe for bringing us The Events Calendar plugin for WordPress. For the full effect, we purchased the Community Calendar, PRO, with the Filter add-on. They’ve also got add-ons to integrate with Eventbrite and other cool e-commerce stuff we didn’t need but you might like. If your budget is extra-tight, skip the filter and the PRO upgrade.

Don't want to pay for their plugin because you've got the coding chops? OK, then you should at least fork their GitHub repo and give it a go from the source-code to make your own adjustments.

3. Install (and Hack) Some Key Plugins

Here are four, key, FREE plugins that you will need to install to get the full-effect:

  • Jetpack: this should come pre-installed with WordPress these days, but if not, get it. You’ll need to link it up with a WordPress.org account. Then make sure to activate Publicize specifically, which is the only reason you really need Jetpack. However, there’s other cool stuff in it.
  • Yoast SEO: stands for Search Engine Optimization. This will allow you to create slick Facebook and Twitter cards for your site. It’s all the rage with the kids these days.
  • Functionality: this one is a little wonky, but it lets you customize (hack) functions (stuff in plugins). See below for deets.
  • Import users from CSV using meta: this is how you’re going to save a million hours when it’s time to add users to your site. Skip it if that’s not the route you want to take. See below for deets.

Phew! That’s a lot of plugins, but it’s worth it. The hard part comes next. You’re going to hack Publicize to work special for your events.

Publicize is a particularly nice plugin that allows you to link your WordPress posts to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, and some other stuff. By this I mean: when you hit publish in WordPress, it will automatically send out social media posts to publicize your posts! It also adds those nice sharing buttons to your posts. It’s awesome.

Once you have it installed, go to ‘Settings>Sharing’ in your Dashboard to link up your accounts. The only problem is that Publicize only works with standard posts, not Modern Tribe Events. So we’re going to hack it.

Basically, you need to hook `tribe_events` custom post types into the Publicize function. This is made really easy with the Functionality plugin. You can find great instructions on adding custom post support in this link (just use option #1, not #2).

The short story: copy/paste the following code under ‘Plugins>Edit Functions’ in the Dashboard menu.

add_action('init', 'my_custom_init');
function my_custom_init() {
     add_post_type_support( 'tribe_events', 'publicize' );
}

4. Customize Your Events Calendar Plugin

You’re going to have to do a little work to customize the Modern Tribe plugins to make it work with your theme and to add categories, venues, organizers, etc. Go to ‘Events>Settings’ and poke around the tabs and options. Set default currency symbols, cutoff times, etc.

Pay particular attention to “Default Stylesheet” and “Events Template” under the “Display” tab. With the Sela Theme, we found “Tribe Events Styles” and “Default Events Template” work just fine.

Under the “Community” tab, we found it helpful to set the “Default status for submitted events” to “Pending” so that it’s easy to find them in the Events list later. Also, under “Alerts”, make sure to add emails for folks you’d like to be notified when a community contribution is submitted.

Pro-Tip: Make sure to create a How-To Guide for users of your site. We used our (still draft) guide to explain what our categories meant and we’re going to add more detail to explain our event review process too.

5. Setup Admins and Authors

OK, so now that you’ve got everything setup nicely, it’s time to start soliciting for events! Nope, wait, hold on. So who exactly is going to manage them when they come rushing in?

Community-sourced contributions need to be reviewed by a site admin; someone with the authority to edit and post events, or delete them. Or, you can create other trusted authors and editors to do that for you or for themselves. WordPress has multiple “user roles” to help you manage who has permission to do what

Here are a couple of solutions to help manage this deluge of events likely to follow your site-launch:

  • Establish an event review schedule: help your contributors anticipate when they will see their calendar events appear and help your admins fit event review into their schedules. Perhaps you’ll be posting events every Monday afternoon? Or on Tuesdays and Thursday mornings? Whatever your schedule, make it public and stick to it.
  • Share the responsibilities: Identify a core-team of admins to help you review event postings and assign a rotation that everyone can stick to using calendar invites with reminders.
  • Expand your site admins: do you have strong community leaders that are likely to be trusted event providers? Local cultural institutions or community based organizations? Well, skip the review process and grant those organization representatives admin, editor, or author access to draft, preview and publish their own events without your approval.
  • Create organization logins: as we all know, organization staffing is dynamic and individuals change positions over time. Consider creating an organizational login that can be shared by multiple staff, but if you do, limit their role to contributor so that you still review their posts. You want to prevent anonymous publishing!

Depending on the size of your network, setting up all those user accounts can become a real nightmare. That’s where the Import users from CSV using meta plugin (seriously, that’s what it’s called) will come in handy. It’ll allow you to bulk-upload a CSV file (from Excel or Google Sheets) with all the user information in columns, saving a lot of time!

6. Get Social Media Savvy!

I’m no social media expert so I’m not going to get too detailed or too instructional here. I only wanted to note that even with a calendar, people tend to find out about events from their peers: learning is fundamentally social!

The biggest value-add from a shared calendar like this is visibility. But while the event postings will serve as an anchor, nobody will find them unless you publicize, publicize, publicize. The spotlight doesn’t shine on it’s own, you need to light it up.

Again, the Publicize plugin will help you do that, so make sure to take the time to understand how it works, but you should also take the time to do some good, old-fashioned networking too. Thank your event contributors when they add events and promote the calendar and events to influential members of your community. Check out the Tweets above for examples.

If you need more support, consider posting a “social media strategy” volunteer position. You’d be surprised how many marketing and communications professionals are eager to share their expertise for a good cause, or sharpen their skills. We found Catch A Fire to be a particularly nice place to do that.


The Teachers @ Hive Chicago Team

The core contributors to this project included:

A Member-Driven Network: Research, Data & Feedback for 2015

Hive Chicago is a Member-driven Network.

As part of Mozilla’s Hive Learning Networks global initiative, Hive Chicago shares it’s mission, vision and theory of change with all Hive Networks: mobilize educators in our communities to create connected learning experiences (that teach web literacy) and catalyze others to extend that work.

Yet, as a network of local organizations in Chicago, the unique goals, strategies and calls-to-action that the Hive Chicago adopts to advance that mission are directly informed by the collective aspirations, needs and challenges articulated by our individual, organizational, and community members.

In Chicago, members of the Hive collaboratively shaped a set of four goals in 2013: equitable access, learning pathways, innovative program design, and external value. To achieve these aspirational goals, Chicago membership further articulated six Moonshots in 2014. These are calls-to-action or issue areas that organize Moonshot working groups to generate solutions – onramps to learning, transportation, school engagement, parent engagement, youth voice, and data informed decision making.

The experience of exploring, creating and sharing collaboratively in the Network – either through meetups, online forums, blogs, funding opportunities, youth learning events, or other gatherings and venues for engagement – is also shaped to meet the needs of the network. Hive Chicago collects data on member activity, solicits experience feedback, and engages research partners to assess the effectiveness and to inform the design of our engagement platform and professional learning community.


The NYU Hive Research Report

The Hive Learning Networks partner with New York University, Connecting Youth: Digital Learning Research Project to conduct member-professional-educator and youth-participant experience research in Hive-funded, and un-funded activities. For three years, the NYU team has been conducting interviews, surveys, and observations to produce yearly reports that help paint an unbiased picture of the Hive experience.

In the March 2015 Meetup, Hive Chicago’” staff presented eight “Key Findings” from the NYU Academic Year 2013-14 Hive Report to attendees of the Meetup. Since the report covered a period of time several months in the past, Hive staff prompted them to reflect and provide feedback on whether the key findings had been addressed. The following is the exact text of the prompt:

Reflecting on the NYU report left Hive Leadership feeling encouraged that many of the issues raised by Hive membership in 2013 and 2014 have begun to be addressed leading into 2015.

Yet, the best judge of our work are the members of the Network and we wanted to get your feedback to see where we have been effective, and where we might continue to improve.

Please provide us with feedback on these NYU Key Findings. For each of the NYU Key Findings above, please consider the Key Finding and reflect on how it connects to your experience in the Hive, then leave a colored sticker dot to indicate:

  • GREEN – Being Addressed: this is an issue that has been adequately addressed, is currently being addressed adequately, or is not relevant to the current state of the Hive;
  • YELLOW – No Idea: this is an issue that you have no experience with or don’t know whether the Hive is addressing;
  • PURPLE – Critical Attention: this is an issue that has not seen any significant action from the Network and needs immediate attention;

The Eight NYU Key Findings:

Text and headings taken verbatim from NYU report Executive Summary.

  1. Defining Hive & Hive-like – Some [representatives] pointed out that their work had already been aligned with Hive’s goals, and that these learning models simply provided language to describe their existing practices.
  2. Educational Innovation – Representatives believed that educators from the school sector were missing from the network, and believed that Hive leadership should work to better bridge the gap between the informal and formal learning spaces.
  3. Network Growth – [Representatives] feared that a network that became too large could potentially dilute each organization’s ability to build meaningful relationships and collaborations.
  4. Beneficial Resources – The two most valued benefits of membership were access to funding and organizational peers.
  5. Desired Resources – Representatives highlighted the need for a resource hub where they could easily find information on all Chicago Hive member organizations, as well as their programs and projects.
  6. Desired Resources – [Representatives] requested toolkits with best practices, stronger connections between the various Hive Learning Networks and Hive Learning Communities, and a more organized structure for monthly meetups and Minigroups.
  7. Institutional Support – None of the interview participants reported facing institutional challenges regarding their Hive membership. However, the level of active organizational support they experienced still varied.
  8. Spread – There were mixed responses on whether concepts like connected learning and HOMAGO had spread beyond the Hive network. While some representatives believed that these concepts were spreading in their home institutions, others mentioned that their work had been aligned with these models before they were formally identified and promoted.

The results of the member feedback on the NYU Report are shown in the slideshow gallery below.

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Members almost unanimously felt that – in the time since the NYU research was conducted – Hive has addressed issues around defining Hive, growing the network, and providing beneficial resources for members. Their perspective on their own institutional support for the Hive continued to vary and clear evidence for the spread of Hive-like ideas remains somewhat unclear. Members feel united that there is still room for improvement with engaging formal educators in our innovative work and making the products of our work easy to find and access.


Real-time Feedback Channels

Meetup Feedback

In addition to the NYU Report, Hive Chicago continuously collects network feedback directly through surveys at network engagements and indirectly through tracking participation activity, event attendance, and organizational profiles. As a complement to the NYU key findings, Hive staff also shared samples of this data at the March 2015 Meetup as well. These are presented below.

An Example of Meetup Feedback collected in 2014. The Likert scale used ranges from 1 – Strongly Disagree to 4 – Strongly Agree. #5 – "I think that Hive Chicago is on the right track." #11 –  "Today’s meetup provided me with an adequate opportunity to connect one-on-one with Hive Leadership" #19 –  "Today’s meetup provided me with an opportunity to connect with someone new in the Hive, or reconnect with someone I otherwise see infrequently."
An Example of Meetup Feedback collected in 2014. The Likert scale used ranges from 1 – Strongly Disagree to 4 – Strongly Agree.
#5 – “I think that Hive Chicago is on the right track.”
#11 –  “Today’s meetup provided me with an adequate opportunity to connect one-on-one with Hive Leadership”
#19 –  “Today’s meetup provided me with an opportunity to connect with someone new in the Hive, or reconnect with someone I otherwise see infrequently.”

From the sample data in the table above – the full data-set includes over two dozen questions tracked intermittently in 2014 – we can draw a few conclusions. First, overall, our meetup attendees have found the meetup experience to be improving over the last year. This is implied by the up-and-to-the-right trend in the lines above, but clearer and more compelling in the full dataset. Second, the meetups currently and consistently do a better job at connecting our attendees to each other than they do at connecting attendees to Hive staff, though both have improved over time.

Finally, the sense that “Hive is on the right track” is significantly variable from meetup to meetup. This information is regularly used by Hive staff to gauge how attendees have received new direction or messaging offered by network leadership at meetups. It helps indicate when leadership plans are connecting to member expectations.

Meetup Attendance

In the anonymized meetup attendance spreadsheet below – click here to view the spreadsheet in it’s own window – each row tracks a single attendee and each column represents a meetup; cells are marked orange when an individual was in attendance, while those marked blue indicate they were not.

The meetup attendance data is very illuminating. The first thing to note is the “long tail” of attendees with intermittent or singular attendance. The sheet is sorted with highest attendance at the top, to lowest attendance at the bottom. You can see the long tail by scrolling downwards and noting the transition from predominantly orange to blue.

Secondly, when individual attendance is compared against member organization attendance the following conclusions emerge (note that member organization attendance is not shown here, but is calculated by considering when any staff person from an organization is in attendance at a given meetup):

There is a consistent representation of member organizations:

    • Our 64 Member Organizations attend an average of 50% of meetups (6) per year on average;

There is a variable representation of individuals:

    • 374 unique individuals have attended Hive Chicago meetups in the last 18 months;
    • 50% of those attendees came once and never returned (modulo our next meetup);
    • 30 of those attendees attend 50% of meetups or more (6 or more) per year on average.

What is amazing about this information is that despite the fact that very few people attend every single meetup, there is a pervasive sense of connectedness in our community that is driven by many other interaction opportunities outside of meetups: online in our member-forum, through project collaborations, and at other Hive events and programs. The key takeaway is that:

A thriving network can operate through distributed and loosely connected relationships while remaining tightly in synch.

This data also helps us to think strategically about how we design the meetup experience in 2015: if 50% of our attendees only come once, then we need to be much better prepared to make that single interaction a meaningful one. This is true whether or not there is potential for them to return! Ensuring that people who make the time to interact with us face to face just once have a clear sense of who we are is critical if we only have that one shot. First impressions are lasting.

This also provides us with an interesting opportunity to sample folks in different attendance groups to find out why they do or do not return and where else they may be connecting with the Hive in a way that suits them better. These surveys will be conducted in the next couple of months and their results will be invaluable.


Advancing the Network in 2015

Prior to the March meetup, Hive staff prepared a draft engagement plan and calendar for 2015, based on perceived network needs that were apparent to Hive staff from their experience in 2014. Before these plans were finalized, it was important to assess them against actual member expectations. This was another opportunity for feedback. After reviewing the NYU Key Findings and the meetup feedback and attendance data, Hive staff presented meetup attendees with their plan and the calendar shown in the spreadsheet below.

After reviewing the plan and calendar, meetup attendees were prompted to provide one final round of feedback:

After considering the NYU Key Findings from their 2013-14 Academic Year report, seeing the feedback and meetup attendance data collected by Hive Staff during that same year and hearing about the 2015 calendar for convenings that includes Meetups, Community Calls, and “Hive Dives”, what are your reflections on what should stay, what should go, and what should change for the Hive Experience in 2015?

Attendees completed a survey to identify one item of the Hive engagement strategy they would keep, one they would change, one they would add, and one they would throw away. Hive staff received over 30 individual survey responses and while no specific items dominated the keep, change, add and trash categories, the following general trends emerged after review:

  • Variety – people appreciate a variation in their experience, e.g. food, topics, formats, after hours, target audiences, even furniture format;
  • Skill Building – people want to continue having opportunities to build their skills, e.g. communication-tool-tutorials, skill/fail shares, RFP support, etc.;
  • Inclusivity – there’s a widespread desire to continue broadening inclusion of various forms of diversity, e.g. geographic, racial, formal/informal, etc.;
  • Mechanisms for Connecting – people need more information about digital tools already in place for connecting the community and training to use them;
  • Connecting to Resources – people are looking for a more user-friendly format that allows individuals to find and digest our network resources and learning products;
  • Connecting to Peers – peer-to-peer connections and exchanges are Hive’s biggest asset and value-add for the community;
  • Less Yack & More Hack – people feel like they understand what Hive is all about and now they want to spend more time working on Moonshots;

These are the Hive Chicago design criteria for 2015 community engagement.