Tag Archives: social media
So here I am more or less completing #HumanMOOC – although readers will be very aware that completion can be a complex idea when it comes to MOOCs. I have not earned any badges (apologies to the organisers here as I said I would), and have not been particularly active on the discussion boards. I have, however, learned a lot from the course and that is of course the critical thing. So firstly many thanks to the team involved in putting it together – Whitney Kilgore, Robin Bartoletti, Dave Hallmon, and Maha Al-Freih. They have done a superb job.
The final week was devoted to the third “leg” of the Community of Inquiry model – cognitive presence. This is the process by which students (i.e. all of us) are helped to grapple with theories, ideas and problems. One approach (Garrison &Anderson, 2003), helpfully thinks about this in four stages:
1) Triggering event/recognising problem – this could be anything from an assignment question to a video, to a news item;
2) Exploration of possible solutions, doing research etc.;
3) Integration of findings – synthesis, exploration, bringing everything together;
4) Resolution of the problem – applying ideas and considering their relevance.
Of course, no one would say these need to be sequential, or that this process is always followed, but it seems to me a useful design tool. Much of the discussion in the week focused on the first of these – “triggering events”, and how to bring them into teaching with imagination and impact. The week kicked off with the academic and self-proclaimed “edupunk” Jim Groom describing a very unorthodox triggering event which he used. He delivered a class as a fictional character, who then disappeared. It’s well worth viewing the video for the full story, which is as weird and provocative as it sounds:
Maybe these tactics are not ones we could all use, but the part of this I found most fascinating was the way Groom’s approach pushed his students to consider the issue of identity on the Web, which in turn is a topic you can only really explore using the tools of the web. His argument, which I tend to agree with, is that educators so often see their role as engineering ways to hide from the Web. The Web is here, whether we like it or not, so our duty as educators is surely to help our students use it effectively and safely. And they can surely only learn about the Web, its capabilities and pitfalls by using it. Interestingly, a similar point was made in another (much shorter) video which was referenced in the course. Here, educator and blogger Will Richardson is discussing the concept of the Personal Learning Network:
Richardson’s point is that so much formal education pretends that children, or even older students, are not already part of personal learning networks. The fact is that they usually are, but we are not helping them develop the literacy to use them effectively. The video was made in 2007 but, in my experience as a parent, not much has changed since. My children get lots of talks on e-safety at their school and of course we have reinforced key messages about being careful how you share information, how to respond to cyber-bullying and so forth. But it gets pretty repetitive and the overall impression conveyed can be that the Web is a very dangerous place and the school would mostly rather you didn’t go there. Of course, most of the kids are there anyway, and we should encourage them to use the web creatively, and through their practice, develop the awareness they need to stay safe (or at least as safe as they reasonably can).
And I do wonder if we, as parents and educators, have room to set a better example in our own practice. Anyone following me on social media knows that Twitter and WordPress are indispensable tools of my practice – I struggle to imagine operating without them. By navigating and using the Web in this way, I like to think that I can serve as a role model for my students and my children. I certainly talk to my children about what I do and why, so hopefully they can learn from this, including from mistakes I have made. And there are countless other educators all over the world who blog, tweet, and use many other forms of media to share and discuss ideas.
And yet my experience is that we are still quite a small minority – a large majority of educators do not use these tools as part of their practice. Of course, they use the Web as a resource, but do not participate much in the professional community there. There are lots of reasons why they might not (including lack of support and training from their institutions), and of course I would not want to push someone into doing something they are uncomfortable with, even if I could. But I would, in all humility, like to pose a question to all educators: your students’ practice will most likely include professional engagement with the Web and learning to do this well may be one of the most important skills they need to learn. Are you in any position to teach and role model this if you yourself do not engage professionally with the Web in some form or other?
All of which brings me back to a topic I have blogged about before – being an open, networked teacher and learner. I am now more convinced of its importance than ever.
Garrison, D. R. & Anderson, T. (2003). E-Learning in the 21st century: a framework for research and practice. London, Routledge/Falmer.
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).
One thing I have already noticed about being on a MOOC is that the forums and blog posts tend to mingle responses to the exercises and feedback comments on those exercises themselves. Maybe this is all part of the learning experience, but I’m not certain it is always helpful. I will try not to do this too much, but I do have one observation which may be relevant to open education as a whole.
I am a bit surprised that one of the resources set for this task is a set of Powerpoint slides for a talk delivered at a conference. When I personally use Powerpoint in presentations (which I know is a bit unfashionable), I consider it key that the slides are a visual aid to the presentation – they are not the presentation itself. You can use Powerpoint on a stand-alone basis if you want, but that is not what is happening here. The result is that, apart from thinking that 73 slides is far too much for one talk, I feel like I have picked up some ideas about what the speaker was saying, but I don’t think I really understand his argument. (Although I thought his wordle “word cloud” cv was very cool and I will pinch that idea for the “About Me” section of my blog). So why were we set these resources, instead of a more complete resource such as a video presentation, podcast or article? Is this because “open education” means “anything goes”? Hopefully not, but it raised the question in my mind.
Anyway, we are asked to create a visual representation of open scholarship, drawing on some of the ideas in our resources. I am not great on visual representations – I tend to think in words not images, and I have generally worked in places where experts can deal with making things look attractive, so I have never honed my skills in this way. But I gave it a go (that spirit of openness again). At risk of over-simplifying, I would depict the situation in two simple diagrams. One depicts the “old world” of scholarship, say up to the 1970s, although still very much the dominant model when I was at university in the 1980s:
It would be too much to say that scholars were completely isolated from society, but they seemed to me fairly well insulated. There were clear entry criteria and career paths. Scholars attended conferences where they discussed matters with each other. They published papers in peer-reviewed journals that few if any outside the scholarly community would ever read. They taught some students within the institutions they worked for. There was interaction with the world outside – perhaps some public lectures, “popular” books or TV appearances – but these were limited.
As we all know well, this model started to break down in the 1970s, with organisations like the Open University and the University of Phoenix (which, in the interests of being open, I will disclose shares a parent company with my employer) getting things going. You can then chart a trajectory via the World Wide Web, academic blogs, OpenCourseWare, Khan Academy and many other staging posts to the emerging situation we see now:
The key point is that the line between scholarship and the rest of the world is much more porous. Scholars regularly host tv programmes, share their thoughts in blogs as well as academic journals, and run courses open to everyone. This process is still at the early stages, of course, but the direction seems clear. It’s an exciting development, and means many more people can access and contribute to scholarship in all its forms. But, going back to my point about “anything goes”, the questions multiply too:
- If the universities no longer have a monopoly on scholarship, then who defines whether someone is a scholar or not?
- Who exercises scholarly authority? Is it based on credentials, qualifications, experience, or how many hits your blog or YouTube channel gets?
- Social media discourse tends to gravitate to “small talk” – chat about the latest fads, fun stuff, soundbites, instant feelings. There is nothing wrong with this. But it is very different to scholarship, which at its best can mean a painstaking trawl through data and literature, carefully building up conclusions and then opening them for debate. Is the world of open scholarship going to allow space for this?
All food for thought and discussion as we move onwards.
Why are human beings so successful? That is, “successful” in the sense that we have become very numerous, and dominate our planet. Many answers can be suggested, but maybe the really important point is our capacity for co-operation. Other animals do this of course – who can forget tv footage of the Emperor Penguins? They are the only native species that can survive the Antarctic winter, and they do it by huddling together, taking turns to bear the brunt of the wind.
But human have taken it to a whole different level – we co-operate in highly sophisticated ways and have developed patterns of working together not just in small groups but in units of millions. This has allowed us to achieve extraordinary things.
One aspect of this propensity to co-operate is that we don’t really cope very well on our own. We are inter-dependent, with a powerful need to belong. This has been recognised and expressed by poets in every generation. As the writers of Genesis put it, “It is not good that the man should be alone”, or John Donne – “any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind”. I think this is the most powerful aspect of what religion provides to many people. Indeed, my observation is that for many people who practice a religion, this sense of belonging can be more important than issues of belief or behaviour.
All of which points to one of the most intriguing aspects of social media to me. As the “social” suggests, it is really all about belonging. Facebook shows that you belong with a group of friends, and reinforces those ties. LinkedIn shows that you belong with a network of work-related contacts. Both tools offer a bewildering array of “groups” you can join if you feel you want to belong to something bigger than just your network.
But Twitter is perhaps the most interesting of all, because instead of just reinforcing existing ties, where you already belong, it allows you to create new ties. By following someone on Twitter, you belong to a sort of fan club, hence the dominance of pop stars and celebrities among those who are most followed. But in time heavy Twitter users start finding and following interesting new people, maybe interacting with them. It is possible to “meet” people on Twitter, and form communities based around shared interests. You have conversations, respond to each other, and occasionally even meet up in real life. You start to belong to a new community, with all the benefits and problems that entails.
Twitter might not spell the beginning of the end for religion, which after all has a head start of several millennia. But it does provide a genuinely new way for us to fulfil some of our deepest needs – to connect and form new communities. This is why it has moved so fast from geeky niche interest to the mass market. And this is why I am increasingly sure that Twitter, or whatever it morphs into over time, will change our world.