I recently completed H818 which, assuming all goes well with marking, will be my final module in the MA in Online & Distance Education (MAODE). This degree has taken me two and a half years alongside a full-time job and family, so it is quite a relief to make it. It has been my second Masters degree and a real contrast to my first one, which was undertaken full-time and in a more traditional academic discipline, twenty years ago. Part-time is much harder, by the way, no question.
This is a good point to take stock, then, and part of our final assessment helped us to do this by asking us to evaluate how we operate as networked practitioners. To do this evaluation, I used a framework which was presented to us by Professor Martin Weller (2013) in an audio that formed part of our course materials. He set out five benefits of being “open” in your practice as a scholar and educator, drawing on his personal experience. The audio is not publicly available, but the points are very consistent with Prof Weller’s published work.
The benefits are set out below, with reflections on my own practice in relation to each:
- It makes your content go further, in terms of distribution, citations and use;
This is probably true for me. One of the reasons I write my blog and share my work on it is that many more people will see it and it may be useful to them, rather than keeping it private. According to my WordPress statistics, there have been over 7,000 views of my blog since I started it. This is far more people seeing my work than I can imagine happening by any other practical means.
- It leads to unexpected outcomes, for example in Prof Weller’s case being invited to deliver a keynote presentation in India;
I have not yet been invited to India, or anywhere else externally, to present on the basis of my blog, but I have had some gratifying responses, including a blog post in response to one of mine (Weston, 2013). So this has been realised in a much smaller way.
- It allows you to form a global network of peers without investing in a lot of time going to conferences;
Blogging and using Twitter have brought me into loose contact with an interesting range of people, although my own experience is that making a meaningful connection entirely online is not easy – it helps a lot if you can meet in person at least occasionally. During H818, I had the opportunity to meet with another student, who was visiting my home town. The opportunity to compare notes in person was valuable and hard to replicate online. Prof Weller’s network may well include people he has met at least once, which will make a difference.
- It allows for reciprocity, such as answering questions and providing examples;
My experience of digital networking has not included much in the way of exchanging answers and examples, with the exception of a few fellow MAODE students. This is perhaps an area to focus on for development.
- It offers interesting ways of doing teaching and education, such as MOOCs.
I have tried to incorporate Twitter and blogging into some of my teaching, although this can be hard to accommodate within course structures, and is further hampered by the fact that many students do not engage with these channels, as per the 1% rule, which I was introduced to on my most recent module.
Conclusions and directions
The overall conclusion is that, while I have seen some benefits, they are limited compared to those of a highly networked practitioner. The key point is one that I am sure Prof Weller would agree with, and has been made by other prominent networked academics (e.g. Wheeler, 2013). Blogging, and networked practice, are hard work and require sustained attention and effort. There will always be a trade-off between time invested in this and maintaining the “day job”. Of course, Weller’s key point is that it will eventually pay off in terms of the “day job”, but this will take time and will also depend what your “day job” is.
This leads to the question of my future strategy for being networked. I realise now that I have relied to some extent on the MAODE to build up my peer network – that is part of what these courses are for, of course. I will not have this help going forward, and don’t intend to do further formal studies at this stage, although on the other hand time has been freed up to focus on networked activity. Part of my strategy will be to invest some of the time I previously spent studying into updating my blog and writing more regular posts (yes, I will try!), as well as monitoring others’ blogs more closely and commenting on them. I will aim to create a “hub” for my online presence, either using my blog to do this or a new page. I also intend to use selected relevant MOOCs as networking tools, building up contacts with those who share my interests. That’s my plan – but no doubt it will evolve over time.
I will of course be dependent on the support and suggestions of you, my network, to do this, and I will offer suggestions and support in turn. I look forward to keeping in touch with you.
Weller, M. (2013) ‘Benefits of Open’, H818 Unit 2 [online]. Available to OU H818 students at https://learn2.open.ac.uk/mod/oucontent/view.php?id=344985 (accessed 22 February 2014).
Wheeler, S. (2013) ‘Those who are about to blog…’ Learning with ‘e’s, 5 January [online]. Available at http://steve-wheeler.blogspot.co.uk/2012/01/those-who-are-about-to-blog.html (accessed 22 February 2014).
Weston, C. (2013) ‘The iTunes model in education’ Ed Tech Now, 26 March [online]. Available at http://edtechnow.net/2013/03/26/itunes/ (accessed 22 February 2014).