Reinventing lurking as working #socmedHE16

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Last week I attended The Empowered Learner; the 2016 Social Media for Learning in Higher Education Conference (#socmedHE16) at Sheffield Hallam University.

The Keynote for last year’s conference was Eric Stoller with his amazing Star Wars effect opening.  You can make your own this Christmas.  Eric was always going to be a hard act to follow and the conference organisers didn’t try. They offered a Key-Not instead.

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A Key-Not translated as an activity. We were divided into four groups depending on the colour cup we’d chosen. Sneaky – I didn’t see that coming! The task was to use a social medial tool(s) and collaboratively build a resource for the ’empowered’ learner. My group – the Yellow Custard Stirrers – used Adobe Spark to show how to set up a Facebook Group and invite participants. We won! Well done fellow Stirrers – may your custard never go lumpy!

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The Key-Not was followed by two traditional style presentations. After the frenetic activity of the previous hour, it felt strange to be back in passive audience mode. The mobile devices came out and people slipped back into isolation from each other while remaining connected to the virtual. What saved it – for me – was these were two of the best presentations of the day.

I want to blog about Andrew Middleton’s presentation separately. ‘Social Media as a Critical Future Learning Space’ resonated on lots of different levels.

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I blogged about space earlier this year in a post titled Simultaneous Existence and want to go back to the subject, in particular the ssignificance of interstitial space.

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The first presentation by Sarah Honeychurch was about lurking. Now I lurk, you lurk, we all lurk but the word has negative connotations. Traditional definitions include sinister, threatening and unpleasant while its latest linguistic incarnation in relation to discussion forums suggests to lurk is an incorrect or inappropriate thing to do.

I want to re-imagine lurking as working.

In these days of information overload through TEL, email, cloud computing and social media, we are mostly not waving but drowning I would suggest just being there online – long enough to register what’s happening before moving on to the next task – is about as much as anyone can manage.  If we re-invent lurking as less something negative, more a positive affirmation and recognition that we managed to get there in the first place, we could then change attitudes to ‘didn’t we do well!’

There’s lots of ways learning and teaching in HE use social media e.g.#lthechatTLC webinars#creativeHE community – and I’m sure these are all places where lurkers lurk, simply to keep up to date and check they’re not missing anything useful. Social Media is the single most valuable network of curated content which can be customised by choosing who to follow and which events to attend – even if it is in a lurking capacity. To lurk is better than not being there at all. It really is time for a linguistic turn.

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Language matters. I don’t like to hear training or skills being used in relation to my TEL work and try to avoid the words lecture capture. Words like these carry connotations which don’t sit well with the objectives of enhancement and innovation which sit within my own interpretation of TEL.

So here’s to lurking as working. Remember – I lurk, you lurk, we all lurk. To lurk is a coping mechanism. It means we care enough to make the time to log on and check what’s happening in our own spheres of interest while also – apart from anything else – not everyone wants to be in the digital spotlight. Lurkers should be proud of their background activity and online bloggers, tweeters, and activity creators be pleased to have them there. A silent audience is better than no audience at all. Remember – as the email goes quiet and the festivities begin – it’s good to lurk and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.


postscript

On the BBC News today people are advised to take a break from social media over the Christmas period as lurking may make them miserable and depressed <sigh>


 

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The Empowered Learner #SocMedHE16

Social Media Conference Banner

Friday morning. 6.41 train from Hull. Heading to Sheffield Hallam University. It’ll be dark and cold but well worth it to attend the second Social Media for Learning in Higher Education Conference ‘The Empowered Learner

I’m helping facilitate a ‘socially mediated workshop about developing a social media workshop’ The repetition is deliberate and the workshop will be using the UCISA Social Media Toolkit as a baseline. The Toolkit offers a useful guide for universities using social media tools. what ever the reason; learning, teaching, research or administration – it preempts some of the questions which might be asked and contains a wealth of advice and support from those who’ve already tipped their digital toes in the social media waters.

UCISA Social Media Toolkit front cover

The rest of the programme looks interesting – as always, the perennial problem is selection – which to choose and which to miss.

The Keynote has been retitled Key-Not. The rationale for this intriguing name will be revealed on the day. If you can’t gt to Sheffield there’s an online option. The conference website says ‘If you are free between 9.15 and 11.15, will be online and like a challenge you are invited to participate directly in our online version of the Key-Not.  Please email socmedhe@shu.ac.uk with ‘Key-not’ in the subject line and we’ll fill you in.  Otherwise, watch out for a million tweets in the morning, and keep an eye on this page.’  The Twitter hashtag is #SocMedHE16 and some of the sessions will be periscoped – see the conference website for further details.

Yesterday there was an announcement. To coincide with the national event, this year’s conference would also celebrate the Great British Christmas Jumper.

Ooops – I don’t have one.

The closest I get is a little Ode written last month when colleagues were starting to discuss the annual CJ – so in the spirit of Christmas Jumpering, and the absence of one of my own (not to mention taking advantage of social media!) I include it here.

Have a good conference everyone.


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It isn’t technology it’s learning design

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This began as a PhD reflection but turned into a blog post because the issues matter. We need to talk. What has gone wrong? Quite a lot.

December 1 was the first Graduate School Research workshop day. I thought joining in remotely would be a motivator. I’m self-funding so every opportunity for contact is welcome. Via Collaborate and a fixed camera I followed the slides and presentations during the morning but couldn’t join in the activities. In the afternoon the sound was lost. I’m hoping the recording will be ok and wondering when it will appear on the VLE. The cognitive connection has already faded.

What is meant by the phrase ‘online distance learning?’ What did I get from passively listening and watching on my laptop? Not a lot to be honest. The common model of distance learning is still a delivery one. Recorded lectures are seen as progression and if you build in some formative MCQ then Hallelujah – you have an online course.

My PhD includes mandatory research and ethics modules. They’re produced by Epigeum, so expensive and considered gold standard. I’ve sat alone in my room clicking through linear screen after screen of content in order to take the test at the end. It’s lonely and my learning is surface recall rather than any deeper approach achieved by cognitive understanding via critical reflection or discussion with colleagues.

What has gone wrong with the promise of student centered, interactive collaborative learning – online? How can the principles of Social Learning Theory be applied to what is fundamentally learning in isolation?

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In the THES last month there was a piece called Mass Learning must mean web based study It claimed the elements exist to make online learning happen, but ‘institutional inertia’ creates lack of progress. Thinking this might refer to the invisibility of on-campus digital divides or lack of recognition of diverse digital capabilities I read on. Technology has its problems I’m told – and here the piece links to Distance and Discontent the Downside of Digital Learning – but it will continue to evolve, solving all the negative issues as it does.

There are barriers such as the need for more teaching hours (at last – acknowledgement it requires additional resources rather than less to build and run effective online learning environments) plus new forms of examination and inclusion of ‘the broader social and cultural benefits of higher education’ but hey the piece goes on – none of these are insuperable. No. The problem is the university itself. Over the past decades they’ve continued to expand their physical presence at the expense of their virtual one, to a point where they can no longer afford to go online. As the author says, Turkeys don’t vote for Christmas but – don’t you know – technology is still the solution!

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As if this were not depressing enough, the Distance and Discontent piece offers two further narratives of online education failure. Against a sector which still shouts about the transformative power of digital environments, something isn’t fitting. The rhetorical promise of e-learning solutions continues to be promoted in headlines, straplines, Jisc-speak and conference halls. In the meantime research and anecdote speak of digital depository models of VLE usage, empty discussion forums and neglected project sites return broken links and 404 errors.

So often over the years I’ve seen digital layers added onto existing face-to-face practice. It rarely creates effective online learning because it isn’t about the technology, it’s about learning design.


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the truth is out there somewhere

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Critical digital literacy should be embedded throughout the higher education experience. We all need effective ways to tell the difference between truth and lies, not just for ourselves but those around us. In 1970, Alvin Tofler called our information explosion the Third Wave, the next greatest social movement following the Agrarian and Industrial ages. What would he say if he could see us now – not waving but drowning in information overload!

Yet the quantity is the least of our problems. It’s the quality which matters. New genres have appeared, in particular since since Brexit and Trump.

Da da!

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Post Truth and Fake Truth.

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They sound similar but there’s a difference. Post truth, most often used in connection with politics, appeals to emotions rather than presenting factual evidence. With Post Truth, what is true is secondary to getting that emotional hit, appealing to the personal and turning it into political action. Fake Truth or False Truth is another way to describe spin. Also known as Fake News/False News, it describes not so much the misinformation but the spreading of it via social media. Like Chinese Whispers, the story changes, getting further away from the original sources, picking up more emotional overtones as it travels on through digital space and time.

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A genre is born when new ways to structure and present information are created. Genres can be different styles of creative writing such as the thriller, detective or horror novel or it can be categories and styles of non-fiction news. Today we have what could be called genres of lies; deliberately false information masquerading as truth with the sole purpose of persuasion.

George Monbiot writes about the misinformation machines. He claims huge amounts of money are spent on setting up international and corporate think-tanks, bloggers and fake citizens’ groups. Their objective is swaying the hearts and minds of the electorate over big issues like immigration, employment and climate change. (Monbiot also refers to Trump and hyporeality which sounds to me ike Baurillard’s hyperreality nightmare come true – I think this may be is next week’s topic sorted!)

Falsity is not new. The internet has always been full of lies as has the world of advertising. At the beginning of the 20th Century, Edward Bernays applied the psychoanalytic ideas of his Uncle Siggy to persuade young women to smoke and increase the popularity of the colour green. His techniques were called Public Relations or Propaganda, depending if you were on stage controlling the show or in the audience watching it. Century of the Self by the brilliant documentary film maker Adam Curtis tells how America learned to take control of its population. Using archive footage, he tells the story of how Bernays, nephew to Sigmund Freud, laid the foundations of mental manipulation by the media, showing how ‘desire’ was created and blurred boundaries between truths and lies were established.

Control of the media equates with control of the people. George Orwell portrayed this as ‘Big Brother‘ in the novel 1984 and showed how deliberately  vague or meaningless language was used to conceal the truth in his essay Politics of the English Language.  In Understanding Media The Extensions of Man, (1964) Marshall McLuhan predicted the medium as well as the message would influence attitudes and behaviors while Neil Postman claimed we would be Amusing Ourselves to Death (1984) as the platforms of the public sphere were taken over by cable tv’s multiple channels leaving no place for discussion and critique of political discourse.

Were these writers prescient? Do we recognise the world they predicted?

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Early founders of the internet claimed it was a tool for social democracy because it offered equal access to information. Instead we have digital exclusion as the new but invisible category of social and economic discrimination. The development of user generated content via sites like Facebook and Twitter was hailed as a tool for the revolution, giving voice to minority groups and bestowing powers of resistance and subversion. Instead, we have a mess.

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For vast swathes of the population, social media has become the single source of truth. Mobile digital media supports speed swapping of news, presented in soundbites and video clips. Adjective heavy headlines and sensational straplines frame news stories telling the reader how to emotionally approach them. Reality TV confuses truth and fiction, magazine industries are built on ‘true’ confessions while multi-channel news is invaded by false news stories. As well as Monbiot, this weeks’ Guardian also has Roy Greenslade on Post Truth and the art of lies citing Barack Obama and his observation the morning after the US election that how the ‘new media ecosystem‘ of social media means ‘everything is true and nothing is true‘.

It seems this is the week for talking about truth.

But of course, after reading all this, you may not believe a single word I have said.