Poll: Social Media in Education

the community paradox

(This is another excerpt from my dissertation. Click on the link to read the first, “the end of audience segregation,” https://jsbeginnersmind.wordpress.com/2011/03/10/the-end-of-audience-segregation/)

Traditionally speaking, communities were framed by geography. Individuals who lived in near enough of a proximately to one another could come together based on common interests, beliefs, or values. As technologies advanced communities expanded. Originally this was done via physical advances in transportation and subsequently also through advances in communication. Technological advances in communication have allowed us to “eliminate time and space factors in human association” (McLuhan, 2003, p. 55) thus calling into question the need for geographical proximity as a requirement for individuals to come together and form a community. Now with the social web it is common for communities to exist comfortably crossing between online and offline interactions with individuals located anywhere in the world. And just as it does for identity, the social web impacts the norms, behaviors, and practices of communities.

Communities are built around and share a common culture where we are able to “communicate, perpetuate, and develop knowledge about and attitudes toward life” (Geertz, 1973, p. 89). In practice communities are sub-groupings within a larger culture that have a culture all their own. While we do not participate in as many different communities as our different selves we do tend to participate in communities where a particular facet of our self is important to us.

The social web has made it possible for communities to form around both online and offline relationships in effect enabling individuals to “personalize their own communities” thus fundamentally transforming the nature of community (Wellman, et al., 2002). Rather than geography or setting communities it may now be best to define communities by their meaning to the individual. This means the boundaries that distinguish a community from the rest of the world may exist “symbolically” in the minds of its members (Cohen as cited in Bruce & Bishop, 2008, p. 709).

Boundaries between communities are more permeable because of the social web and its placement of the individual at the center of their networks. These networks overlap and are visible to everyone we are connected to making it possible for members of one community to connect with members of other communities. (boyd & Ellison, 2008)

Thus we have a second paradox. This one concerning how communities function in the era of the social web. If our relationships to and within these communities are visible to everyone in our network what impact does this have on how we behave and interact? What if the values and norms of one community conflict with the values and norms of another? How do we navigate this in an open-networked world? How do we learn and grow if it is done in the larger public sphere?

symbolic living

It got me to thinking about about the way our online and offline worlds are blended and the idea of what is authentic living and what is symbolic living.

A Twitter friend posted a link to this article on Psychology Today about the value of non-symbolic living. The post was written by Matthew Shanahan, M.Sc.and is worth the read. In his post he recounts a day in his life and how much of it is spent living symbolically. After awhile the days spent like this build up and he feels the need to do something non-symbolic. Think of this as doing  something authentic; something that does not require a representation of what it is to be done. It got me to thinking about about the way our online and offline worlds are blended and the idea of what is authentic living and what is symbolic living.

Symbols are things we use to represent something else. The letters of the alphabet are symbols because they represent speech. One could argue that speech is symbolic of thought. Symbols are what make us who we are because they allow us to think in the abstract and store thought through representations outside of the mind. This is a tremendously powerful skill to have because it allows us to bot only be aware of our own existence but to exercise some control over it. Symbols are what allow us to have a culture; a culture that can be transmitted and perpetuated for generations. Education systems are built upon symbolic learning.

On a personal level, last night I spent a large chunk of time thinking about what I do each day that could be classified as symbolic or non-symbolic living. Writing this post is living symbolically. Drinking my coffee while I do it is non-symbolic living. The most authentic thing I do during the day is my run. On most of my runs I’m able to  become just a body in motion. I’m one with the place I’m at. My best runs are the ones where I go to the next state where all conscious thought falls away and I no longer realize I’m running. My ultimate run will be when I shatter myself. When I breakthrough the duality of this world and catch an glimpse into the infinite. Maybe I’ll return; maybe I won’t, if I lack courage.

When I return from a run I share the experience with friends in the locker room, on Twitter, and Facebook. This is a symbolic act that allows me to re-connect with the culture I choose to be part of and that I’m glad allows me to take part. Would my run mean any less to me if I could not share it (via symbolically) with others? Probably not. I run for me. It is the most single selfish act I do. There were times, years, where I never shared anything about it with another living being. I can honestly say my reason for running and the feelings and meaning I get from it have never changed.

But what has changed is how much of my life affiliated with running is lived symbolically. Prior to getting a Nike+ I never kept a running log. Prior to podcasting and blogging about it, I never really shared what running was like for me and why I do it. Funny thing is, that when I’m gone it it this symbolic representation of me trying to articulate my authentic experience that will live on.

the end of audience segregation?

(This is an excerpt from my dissertation.)

Unlike their predecessors, which were segregated and centered by a topic social networks center on the individual.  With discussion forums everyone who joined was part of the community and had access to read, comment, and create new content visible to everyone. So, while being a closed community centered around a single topic, once inside the individual had open access to all content.

Social networks function the opposite way. In social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter each individual serves as the center of his/her network. To be precise, the individual in the center of all his/her networks covering multiple topics.  It is common in these sites for an individual to be the center of networks related to hobbies or interests, family and friends, as well as work and other responsibilities. “Rather than relating to one group, people live and work in multiple sets of overlapping relationships, cycling among different networks. (Wellman, Boase, & Chen, 2008) The individual chooses the people in their network and these people by default are not segregated by categories of interest or roles.

What does this shift from context specific situations to a scenario of overlapping social networks mean for how we present ourselves to others? The philosopher William James noted that we have as many different social selves as there are different groups whose opinion matters to us. And we tend to show a different facet of ourselves to each of these different groups, what Erving Goffman referred to as “audience segregation.” (1959) where we express different aspects of ourselves to different audiences depending upon the context. However, with the advent of social networking technologies the luxury of being who or what the situation in front of us requires is compromised.  Our co-workers and bosses see a more personal side of us and our friends and family see us interacting in a more professional sphere. Because of the social web “Our private and corporate lives have become information processes just because we have put our central nervous system outside us in electric technology.” (McLuhan, 1964). What is more, these lives have become inextricably intertwined. For instance, when I return from a run I immediately sync my nano with iTunes, which sends my data to Nike, which I forward to my dailymile workout logging application, which in turn auto posts my numbers to Twitter & Facebook for the world to see. Someone may comment on my results and I’ll reply, perhaps from my Droid, iPad, or MacBook depending on where I am in relation to them at the moment, what I happen to be doing, and what type of response is called for. That’s a personal description however, how I do things professionally is not much different. In fact, I use the same devices and many of the same applications to communicate with my peers. In fact in fact many of my professional peers are also part of my running network. And so on.

These external systems are places where we commonly share and articulate different characteristics of our selves with our various communities and we shift the prism of our identity to fit the context of the situation. However, that distinction is largely made in the mind and the reality in which we share our self may be much larger.

EdTech Podcast #1: The Human-Technology Ecosystem

Hi Everyone,

Brian Young & I put together a podcast aimed at exploring technology in education. We hope to go beyond the obvious and into the essence of the relationship between technology in education, it’s meaning and how we can inform our practice. We don’t claim to have all the answers in fact we have questions. Our conversation is meant to be an exploration of a topic and not a definitive answer or solution. We hope the podcast stirs conversation amongst our community.

In our initial episode we talk about the Human Technology Ecosystem. I’m referring to the interaction that occurs when human beings use technology to express themselves and to communicate with others. This interaction is twofold: Between people with technology serving as the medium, or part of the medium for discourse, and between people and the technology they are using. In all instances each component, as well as other components that are situation dependent, is needed to make possible and sustain the other. We touch on topics such as augmented reality, Second Life, Clickers, Facebook, & Twitter.

We hope to make this a semi-regular podcast (perhaps weekly?) and would like your feedback. Thanks.

EdTech Podcast #1: The Human-Technology Ecosystem (https://deimos.apple.com/WebObjects/Core.woa/BrowsePrivately/psu.edu.5623712046.05623712053.6647094863?i=1092659129)

these things that make us

But it is more difficult to admit that the things that one uses are in fact part of one’s self; not in any mystical or metaphorical sense but in cold, concrete actuality.

from The Meaning of Things by Csikzentmihalyi & Rochberg-Halton

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how the technology we use becomes a part of us and how by doing so shapes the kind of being we are. Specifically by technology I’m referring to things that are either electronic in nature or made possible because of electronics. Think of communication and information rendering devices such as smartphones, computers, etc., as well as iPods, data reading devices like Nike+ for athletes or clickers for education. Things that Heidegger calls “ready at hand” where we feel emotional and cognitive dissonance when they’re not rightly available. Ever see my reaction when my iPod craps out during a run?

Android X. iPad. MacBook Pro, iPod nano w/Nike +. These things have become such a natural part of how I live my life I feel the urge to type the colloquialism, “I don’t know how I’d live without them.” A statement that’s balderdash of course but the way I go about my day is severely disrupted if any of these devices is not available the moment I ‘need’ them. My nano is regularly packed with my running sneakers and the rest of my gear. My Droid is slipped inside coat pocket next to my wallet. And so on.

Then there are the things that exist because of these devices. For instance, when I return from a run I immediately sync my nano with iTunes, which sends my data to Nike, which I forward to my dailymile workout logging application, which in turn auto posts my numbers to Twitter & Facebook for the world to see. Someone may comment on my results and I’ll reply, perhaps from my Droid, iPad, or MacBook depending on where I am in relation to them at the moment, what I happen to be doing, and what type of response is called for. That’s a personal description however, how I do things professionally is not much different. In fact, I use the same devices and many of the same applications to communicate with my peers. In fact in fact many of my professional peers are also part of my running network. And so on.

What does this say about me and the kind of person I am? How has the technology become part of the fabric of who I am? How has it altered, impacted my course of being? Literally by becoming part of who I am how has the technology shaped my being? My worldview? How I perceive and interact with others? I’d be curious about the technologies you use. What are they? What impact have they had on shaping the person you’ve become?

the meaning behind it

What interests me about a technology is the meaning behind it. Actually, I’m more interested of the meaning of things in general than the things themselves. In my line of work I get to partner with instructors, students, and designers who approach educational technology from a wide array of perspectives and starting points. From a research perspective, I really get interested in things when they enter the mainstream. In my opinion, and from this context, the best things are discovered when we move pass the early adopters and into the general population.  They are also the things that have the greatest and most lasting impact on culture.

Don’t get me wrong, the technology itself is important but its importance is transitory. The primary importance of the introduction of a new technology is that it changes us. First it changes our behavior by allowing us to do something new or in a way we could not do before. Over time it can change how we view the world. If it touches us on a deeper level it may ultimately change the way  we think and feel. It is  that meaning we attach to and create from its introduction that lasts. It’s also what spurs further innovation. Because just as our lives are lived as a search for meaning we apply the same meaning-making standard to our technologies. So, in the future, the automobile may be looked upon as a quaint notion but, the sense of autonomy and spirit of freedom it provided will be alive and well in whatever mechanism we happen to be using to get around. The smartphone too will become obsolete but the sense of total connectivity it introduced will be alive and well.

Note, I am not attaching a moral value to this. That is a matter of perspective. What is good or bad, right or wrong, depends upon how an individual’s opinion or action is reflected back off the collected opinion of the culture in which they reside. I am not agnostic on the issue it is just not the point of this particular post.

I would argue that most everything we surround our self with we do because we attach some meaning to that object.  Some things are present because they are imposed on us or they are there out of necessity, but doesn’t that also confer some meaning behind it?