Archive for the ‘ social media ’ Category

a funny thing happened

Yesterday I gave a presentation at the PSU Web Conference. The topic was “Using Social Media for Collaboration” and the particular lens explored was how an organization or department could leverage the affordances of social media to foster collaboration and communication both internally and externally. Presenting along with me was a colleague well versed in all things social media, Robin Smail. Our presentation was really a talk. You see, we tried to capture the spirit of online collaboration in an in-person environment. We went into the talk cold with barely an outline of where we wanted things to to go.  We also did not use any slides. This was to be an interactive chat session with some scribblings on a whiteboard…musings that emerged from the conversation. We wanted it to be awkward. We wanted, and we wanted our audience to feel anxious, uncomfortable, and maybe for even a few bored or disinterested. We wanted people to feel what it is like to interact in this environment.

About ten minutes in I needed to come up with an example of how our department uses social media and all I could come up with was probably the most volatile of things both Robin & I are part of at the moment, the annual Learning Design Summer Camp.  I  could not believe the words coming out of my mouth. I heard the dread in my voice as I said them.  I saw the dread in Robin from across the room in her bowed head and deep breaths. Ostensibly, camp is supposed to be about teaching & learning from the perspective of those of us who help to create these events & experiences. While our annual symposium focuses on the instructors, the focus of camp is on instructional designers, librarians, technologists, and multi-media folks who help make scholarship happen. We advertise it on our wiki page as “an informal space for people involved with education technology and course design to get together to show, tell, share, and create.” Robin and I approach the event from very different perspectives. She has been there from the beginning. Due to conference travel, I’ve been there once. Now I am the chair. I have ideas about how I’d like to shape the event. Robin has ideas about how she’s like the event to stay the way it is. We disagree on the most basic of points, such as the definition of what is fun. Most of the old guard agrees with Robin. The folks new to the event like my direction. This isn’t happening behind closed doors. This is happening out in the open, on the wiki page, on Twitter, in discussions. In other words, it made it the perfect illustration for our talk.

You see, that is collaboration done in the open. It requires risk. It takes frank communication. You have to be willing, as an individual and as an entity, to be out there, warts and all. You will end up with some egg on your face. You will need a thick skin. You will struggle both with yourself and with others. It requires us to be a lot of things we are not comfortable being, like being wrong on some things and right on others. Like having to disagree with someone and being able to articulate it. Like being direct while maintaining empathy.  Like focusing on doing what’s best for the whole all the while knowing what is best isn’t always what’s popular.

I think the audience felt the tension between us. But it wasn’t negative tension; it was creative tension. Suddenly Robin and I found ourselves simultaneously presenting to an audience and working through our own issues. A lot of folks in the room played along and a lot of folks opted not to get involved.  Some liked the session and I’m sure others hated it because it did not meet their expectations. Some waled away from the session changed, even in the smallest way. Others have already forgotten it and moved on to the next thing.


getting my socrates on

“Until you know what a thing is, you can’t answer any other questions about it.”


Do we need need to know what a thing is to understand it? Socrates thought so. I think so. However, I get the impression that many of colleagues in educational research & instructional design do not share this view. Note the comments in a recent piece in The Chronicle, “What’s in a Name? Researchers Struggle With Terms for New Learning Methods.” In the article, written by Ben Wieder, researchers at the University of Missouri at Columbia found no consensus among academics about the definitions of “e-learning,” “online learning,” and “distance learning.” The research team asserts, and I agree, that our inability to name a thing makes it difficulty to know what it is. As researchers this also makes it difficult to assess its potential strengths & weaknesses for teaching & learning.

It’s been my experience that this is not an isolated sentiment in our field. Whether we’re talking newer entries into the educational ecosystem such as cloud based applications, social applications, and devices that are portable as well as mobile or some long standing things such as learning management systems & electronic portfolios we can’t seem to agree on what a thing is. What I find disturbing is that we’re not having a healthy dialogue as to what a given thing is. It’s not about agreeing on a definition of a given term (ePortfolio, LMS, eLearning) but coming to an understand as to the things essence. What is the essence of an ePortfolio? What is the nature of an LMS? Social media? Digital scholarship? eLearning?

What troubles me is this. As educators aren’t these the very questions with which we should be concerning ourselves? If we do not understand the nature of a thing how can we then apply it to any given situation, such as a course? How do we know whether what we’re doing is good, bad, or indifferent in it’s impact?

I’m not arguing for an absolute understanding going in however, isn’t it incumbent upon us to to know something well enough to have a game plan going in? If not, how do we understand the outcomes & make sense of it all? Do we not have an obligation  How can we know if an ePortfolio is an effective teaching & learning tool if we can’t agree on what it is?

Maybe that’s why we so often get insignificant results. Perhaps that’s why we don’t know if we’re truly making a difference


so, why do you tweet?

This recording is an abridged version of a presentation I gave at HighEdWeb10 in Cincinnati. It explores the allure behind some social media using Twitter as a backdrop.

social media is people not institutions

A common theme emerged from my week at HighEdWeb10. That is, institutions don’t get it. The ‘it’ I’m referring to is social media and by institutions I’m referring to the administrative and governing bodies. The not getting it refers to how social media is used to interact, particularly interactions that travel from institutional channels to the population they serve, which is primarily students but, it’s not exclusive.

I was part of the criticism myself in my presentation, “Why Do You Tweet?” though my point was geared more toward instructors and the way they use social media for teaching. Recent studies, and they are very recent due to the newness of the phenomenon, indicate that the primary reason we humans use social media is to, well, socialize.

The overwhelming amount of volume on Twitter is chit-chat, mostly in the form of status updates. I don’t have the data on Facebook use but, by my own use, I’d bet it’s the same. Think of it as a conversation over coffee with friends where it’s not so much what you’re talking about but with whom you’re talking. Do I care that my friend Jim and his wife watched a movie last night? At face value, not really. But I do care about Jim and what this tells me about how things are going for him at the moment. A quiet evening at home in the dark watching movies with the person in the world Jim most wants to spend time with tells me things are going alright for Jim.

Know what social media is least used for? News. Basic factual get it from standard sources news. Yet, that seems to be how we in education approach social media. Whether it’s at the classroom level sending out course information or at the institutional level sending out weather updates we are trying to connect using the least desirable option. And we wonder why the majority of our forays are met with reaction ranging from apathy, to bemusement, to anger, to outright hostility?

Even when we hold up the positive examples of social media use in education we tend to highlight the exceptions that don’t necessarily support the rule. For example, using Twitter to illuminate back channel conversations taking place during a lecture or a conference presentation is an excellent thing to do because it allows more voices to be heard and therefore deepens the conversation. But when the social media apologists hold these up as exemplars shouting “Aha! See there really is value in this!” to the naysayers they are really falling into a trap of their own making and not supporting their argument at all.

You see, if that’s what social media is really good for then it’s not really good for much.

For the allure of social media lies is the human connection. Believe it or not the power of Twitter and Facebook is in the mundane. The meaningless. The chatter. Because, quite frankly, that’s where the majority of us live our lives.

So the first question any entity must ask itself before joining in is if they do indeed have a place here. Should an instructor interact with students this way or are other means more appropriate? Should the public relations office tweet formal university messages, such as campus weather updates or are their better ways of reaching its constituents? For that matter, should an office be tweeting at all? If social media is about the human connection shouldn’t a person and not an office be tweeting me?

I’m not saying there is not a place here but I am saying it’s an arbitrary thing and had better be personal. If you’re going to tweet as an entity and all you going to share is factual information, the same information I get from your web page and in my RSS reader, then don’t complain you only have 60 followers. I’m more likely to mark these as read without really reading them anyway so why do I want the same information in another place? Now if Jenny from public relations tweets about a bootleg Clash CD she found when cleaning out her garage…then we’re onto something. So when she puts a heads up on Twitter about something official I’m more likely to take action. But, it’s got to be real. We humans can spot insincerity not matter what medium it’s thrown at at us.

So, my advice is, if it’s not you don’t do it. I do not want the Office of Public Relations as my friend on Facebook. I want Jenny to be my friend. And if Jenny sets up a PR information group on Facebook I may join, as long as it’s Jenny conversing me with me. I don’t want to read copy here I want to connect.

Also, if connecting this way is not Jenny’s thing, she shouldn’t do it. Or she should get someone to help her. Or, even better, she should let that someone run with it. I’m more apt to care about your organization if I connect with someone who happens to work there. This means stepping away and releasing control. It means allowing an uncrafted authentic voice out in the world on its own. A voice that you will, by definition, not always be comfortable with. A voice that will make mistakes and say things you wish it wouldn’t. But it also may make some kid interested in your school. And it won’t be for the institution. It will be for the person. And you have to be willing to accept that in the medium of social media this is okay.