Effective social teaching and learning

Eric and I introduce the group to our social media session (That’s me on the right) – Image courtesy of Ian Roddis .

eric

Several months of planning, and a few nights waking up in a sweat, have led to a successful one day social media event which I co-chaired with colleagues from Learning and Teaching Solutions (LTS) on “Embedding Social Media to effectively support OU learners”.

There were two reasons that it’s taken so long to arrange:

  1. I wanted to introduce external perspectives to the topic to refresh our thinking. To this end my fantastic co-chair Beccy Dresden got in touch with Eric Stoller and we brought him to work with us. You’ll get a sense of his work from his blog. The thing I most like about Eric is his passion and enthusiasm for effective knowledge of, and use of, social media (more on that later).
  2. I wanted to tackle this problem at three levels in order to get actionable outputs and from both a top-down and bottom-up perspective, by that I mean (i) the Vice Chancellor, (ii) the people at Director/AD level responsible for learning & teaching, communications and marketing and (iii) the people who work directly in support of academic practice around module production and presentation.

I structured the day to begin with a conversation with the Vice Chancellor about the Open University and use of social media for a variety of strategic purposes, then we held a wider conversation which I chaired with a group of senior OU staff, from both academic and non-academic areas on “Embedding social media to effectively support OU learners facilitated by Eric Stoller”, then in the afternoon Beccy chaired sessions with academic support staff which began with a Keynote by Eric followed by parallel sessions around Social media for professional development with Eric and Lawrie Phipps (JISC) and Exploring the possibilities for social media within distance learning material hosted by Beccy Dresden and Steve Parkinson from Learning and Teaching Solutions (OU) and concluded with a plenary/roundup.

I began the morning session by introducing four provocations:

Provocation 1 – “Do we need a social media strategy for learning?”
Provocation 2 -“How and when do we embed social media practice within our modules and across the curriculum?”
Provocation 3 – “What can we learn from others?”
Provocation 4 – “Can we use social media to bridge the informal/formal divide?”

We then has an introductory chat about our different perspectives with social media and Eric followed this up by giving a talk which went into more detail starting with why does social media matter?

 

We kept the presentations short to allow plenty of time for discussion and the session has a lot of stimulating and interesting perspectives thanks in large part to Eric’s facilitation. Eric asked me before the session what type of conversation should we expect “..sometimes it’s a conversation about org culture and daring to dream/experiment that is needed…sometimes it’s more about choosing which tools are relevant right now and how to apply them in strategic / worthwhile ways.” I said that it was a bit of both and that turned out to be the case. Eric was also interested in the variety of perspectives and knowledge, for example some people in the room, such as Ian Fribbance, have used social media effectively in their practice for some time. The OU has some examples of great use of social media within pockets of the curriculum, and indeed for more general tips on best practice with social media such as the social media toolkit produced by Communications, but there are also pockets of skepticism around social media and particularly about its relevance within formal learning and teaching. In fact one person at the meeting had never used social media and didn’t want to try it, to which Eric exclaimed “This is 2016! – I’ll not force you to use social media but we will talk later!”. The OU is also a place where practice is diverse and where OU academics don’t necessarily engage directly with students but that aspect is managed through tutors (or ALs) so there can be a disconnect.

Here are my key takeaways from the session:

  1. We aren’t using social media consistently and effectively to support and facilitate our discourse within the Open University and that has  consequences for our engagement with our learners and more widely within our teaching communities.
  2. Things are improving. Examples of use of social media which have in the past been treated as ‘renegade’ are now being seen as exemplars of good practice, which is encouraging. e.g. the use of FaceBook within Social Science to support 26,000 learners
  3. It sounds like assessment may be the key to unlocking a bit of a cultural shift towards using social media more effectively…that and the push by certain individuals at the senior level is crucial. (this was echoed by Eric)
  4. We don’t need a formal strategy (considered to be constricting) and LTS are considering how to build a “manifesto” already as a grass roots approach, so what the group thought would be most valuable was an enabling framework within which people could experiment with optionally using social media within their contexts.
  5. We need to ensure that academic staff are developed and supported to be digital scholars, which includes using social media effectively, so we see a need to build this into the “academic excellence” objective that is currently being formulated.
  6. We need to ensure that we consider appropriate platforms and risks when using social media so we see a need to build these elements into the “leadership in digital innovation” objective that is currently being formulated.
  7. We need to provide greater support for ‘grass roots’ initiatives and to remove barriers to adoption, this includes advocacy at senior level but also enabling through joined up thinking and grass roots initiatives such as the special interest group for social media.
  8. We need to continue to engage with external perspectives to help us to see how we compare, and to ensure that we are leading the way around social learning.

Eric is reporting back his thoughts to the Vice Chancellor, and we are now exploring how we can work with the Pro-Vice Chancellor (Learning and Teaching Innovation), the Pro-Vice Chancellor (Research and Academic Strategy) and the Head of Digital Engagement in particular to form an action plan to take this work forward – with thanks to Simon Horrocks, Beccy Dresden and The LTS team in particular who are supporting this work and considering the next steps.

Watch this space.

Community Spirit

footbridge over canal

Where I live...

I live in a small community in a historic and picturesque village on the outskirts of Milton Keynes.

The community has gone through up and downs, and most notably when a local man Paolo Sicorello disappeared earlier this year, he was well known in the community and, for example, went to school with my wife so most people knew of him or his family. I was amazed by how quickly the whole community got behind the search for him. There was a Facebook campaign and groups out organising search parties, with the help of the police, again coordinated through Facebook.

Eventually he was found dead in the canal, he had fallen in and drowned. His Facebook campaign became a memorial site and there were some absolutely wonderful stories and heartfelt outpouring on the site which I think his family really appreciated.

Recently I’ve again seen some of that community spirit as we’ve had problems with a group of travellers. These are not the nice sort of travellers. These are the damaging property, thieving, fighting in public and littering type of traveller. I know the other type exist as I spent some time with courteous travelling folk in my distant youth. These ones are a breed apart.

Anyhow the travellers moved in and the community started to find things going missing and property being destroyed.

poniesWe have two ponies which graze on local paddock land owned by the Parks Trust and the travellers took particular interest in the animals. They started marking up the signs on the bridleways as if they were planning to use these as a way to get to the paddocks at night. Another horse owner found a plait in the mane of her horse. A sure sign that travellers are interested in stealing it as they use the plaits to find the animals at night.

The good thing was how the community seemed to rally together. People informed local land owners straight away and the manor park lands ware closed to the public. People went out checking on their walks for anything out of the ordinary and kept watch on each others property.

The police were informed within hours of the travellers arriving to a new site (they kept switching sites but staying in our area). Community Support officers patrolled the area and the parks trust rangers also did patrols of the paddocks. We even had local security firm come and agree to do patrols of the paddocks for free and put up signs on the gates to deter criminals.

Of course the measures were not infallible and we did have a chain a padlock stolen. Thieves actually broke down the fencing to remove the padlock and chain from next to the gate. The parks trust rangers thought it was an attempt to test how easily they could break in and how quickly we’d respond. The rangers phoned around and arranged for contractors to replace broken items and we texted them the crime reference number after we telephoned the police and the parks trust sent the police the images of the damage via their mobile to use to support a criminal damage claim as well as theft if the criminal is ever caught.

Since then nothing further has happened. The parks trust are considering installing CCTV surveillance on that area if there’s any further trouble and the police are using the local paper to inform people to keep a look out and raise awareness. The travellers have now been moved on by the police so we’re keeping our fingers crossed that they don’t return.

I do love the humanity I see displayed around me – both on-line where digital media affords different and new types of community interaction and in the real world where people use ubiquitous and ambient technology, mobile phones,digital cameras and text alerts to help the community. This type of community has existed for thousands of years but the wonder is how the newer technology has become an integral element of the community spirit.

Nevolution

Nevolution = Evolution through networking

Star Trek

Borg - Are we evolving into them?

Since listening to a keynote by Grainne Conole recently at MoodleMOOT I’ve been thinking about the concept of people and technology co-evolving. It’s not that profound a concept really and links to a previous post about the “hidden influence of social networks” we adapt to technology probably more profoundly that the technology adapts to us.

In the case of Twitter this is becoming somewhat of a concern to me because I’m starting to become the type of person who will try to make his posts witty and engaging (perish the thought), this leads to a tendency to exaggerate or enhance. You have this kind of hyper-reality dynamic played out in Twitter where there are the seedlings of truth but couched in the attention grabbing advertising blurb that gets them noticed, you then run the risk of becoming obsessed by ego rather than the topic. It’s not true of all interactions of course, and there is a lot of very good factual information provided without hype, but I’ve been on twitter now for a number of years and it’s only recently that I’ve started noticing the ego-centricity of Twitter.

I think blogging is similarly an egocentric method of communicating and I remember when Martin Weller first encouraged me to blog many years back I was concerned at the time about it being all a bit of an ego massaging exercise. Perhaps that is one of the reasons that when I started my blog I tried deliberately to blog about things that I’d refer back to and find useful for me and my work so treated it like a diary and reminder. A “To-Do” of research ideas. I did originally intend to blog about all things but technology is the predominate subject within many of my posts and perhaps it because my “other life” is one I’m still not comfortable in sticking into blog posts because that does seem rather egotistical. I do occasionally do put family stuff up on Facebook.

So that leads me to another evolutionary trend which is that I’ve noticed now that I’m CATEGORISING my online persona and using different media to reflect different parts of myself and to interact in different ways with different groupings of people. In Facebook the club of followers is quite narrow and when people are flagged to me as “mutual friends” that perhaps I should friend, I don’t tend to do that unless I have a close connection with them in the real world.

So Facebook is, for me, only a group of real friends and close colleagues, and where I feel safe to share personal information.

Twitter on the other hand is more like a pub where I have some close friends that I’m out with and where there are various other interesting people who I know or ‘follow’, some of which are celebs and where listening to them is amusing. The pub persona also means that I do a bit of boasting and bragging and ‘hyper-reality’ is the norm.

Blogging for me is that part of me that wants to remember things which I find useful and may also be useful to others, so my use of blogging is a kind of therapeutic method for me to relieve myself of some thought that I’ve been struggling to articulate. It is like revision classes where I’m repeating stuff that I may have mentioned in class (in a tweet or on Facebook) and trying to explain it, mainly to myself, so that I can work out if it’s got any validity.

This persona building is happening constantly and it’s evolving over time. I also have my “linkedIn” and my “academia.edu” and various other elements of myself expressed online.

How much though is the media I’m engaging in changing me? …am I becoming ‘hyper-real’?

Stupid Web

John Naughton (amongst others) has been critical of Google Buzz. Buzz has been criticised for trying to second guess and provides what John describes as a category mistake”. I have the same feeling about a lot of the tools that fall under the ‘semantic web’ banner at trying to provide some level of cleverness, in this case it’s very basic looking at your contact list and the people you converse with most. I’ve had a similar experience with Amazon.

The problem with Amazon is that it doesn’t store context. The context of some of my purchases (rubber ducks for my niece) is a one off buy that will never be repeated, the horsey books for my partner are repeat purchases but I think Amazon misses a trick because I’d buy a lot more from Amazon if it gave me stuff that’s contextually relevent to me and what I need at the time. That’s difficult to do because I usually go elsewhere for technology purchases but I hardly ever get recommendations for gadgets from Amazon and if I did I would probably be tempted to buy them. Amazon can’t read my mind and the Venn diagram that includes “bath toys for 2 year olds, books about agile programming techniques and horsey books” is quite a small one so the recommendations I receive are Amazons guess at what I will buy based on what I’ve bought in the past.

So what would help ? – Something that tells Amazon about things that interest me most. Something that can explain to Amazon when I’m “browsing” or when I’m actually engaging with something deeply and emotionally. Hmmm…that would be me then.

So that centre of the universe is the individual…or is it ‘collective intelligence’ which is the newest buzz trend (but not a new concept) to try and find out the wisdom of crowds and apply it to web problems. See the problem here is that Americans voted for Bush….and then they did it again. I’m not entirely sure about the wisdom of crowds. The wisdom of peer groups perhaps but I’m not sure that I want to know what ‘the great unwashed’ are twittering about today. I think it’s likely to be a bit dull….and I’ve  looked so I think I know. What are people tweeting about today? “valentines” – what a surprise.

So I still think we’ve got a pretty stupid web. That doesn’t mean that I don’t think the Amazon site gives me interesting suggestions (BTW  I have twice bought a ‘bundle’ under the ‘people that bought this item also bought that too!’)  so it does work. Similarly I do occasionally when I’m bored click on one of the popular hashtags to see whats being said but I would say that I spend more time doing my own research from following ‘known good’ paths than from following paths provided for me.

Perhaps this will change but I hope in a way that people’s own higher order analytical skills remain the primary means of sifting information, otherwise we’ll have a world of people who just believe anything they read and buy anything popular for the sake of it…. iPad anyone?

Oh and while we’re at it what’s going on with Wolfram Alpha …not beta yet? – have people lost interest?

p.s. On the Amazon site I’ve just gone in from my home machine which uses my partners account. Finally now I have recommendations for gadgets that I was looking for all along. All Amazon need to do is send her recommendations to me! Happy Valentines day – 🙂

Clowning Around?

I’ve hardly blogged at all recently (been on twitter lots) – There’s a debate raging about whether twitter kills blogging. We’ve been having the debate using cloudworks which is our very nice home grown system and I intend to give my opinions of that in another post, but suffice to say I love it.

…anyhow back to my point. By far the most traffic to my blog was generated from my post about Why Clowns are Dangerous. This has in fact also spawned a lot of quite vitriolic and IMHO (!) self opinionated comments, these tend to be light on research and factual evidence but heavily packed with personal insults.

From this I summise:-

1. Michael Wesch is spot on in his analysis about behaviours around anonymity and rage. Particularly people  think they know me from what is a very incomplete set of criteria by which to judge….and for the record my sister runs a circus troupe and regularly dresses in a clown costume. There is a recognised condition around clowns and their fear. Stephen Kings “IT” is directly playing on that association.

2. Clowns are not something to make fun of. Clowns take themselves very seriously.

3. My sister runs a circus troupe (performing arts and trapeze and the works) so there is a clown in my family 🙂

4. The more bizarre the blog post the more traffic it generates. My second most popular post is on silent vacuum cleaners. Therefore ridding the world of scary clowns and noisy vacuum cleaners is likely to make someone very popular.

5. Most people don’t get irony. Or humour. Going back to 1, this is probably to do with the other 55% non verbal communication. Or it could be that people only expect blogs to be ‘either’ comical or serious and not a mixture.

6. People make assumptions. All the time. We forget past things that don’t fit those assumptions and concentrate on the latest things that do. Derren Brown would have a field day. Or am I making assumptions?

Connected Thoughts and People

I’ve been taking a break from technology (stuck in forest for a week with the family and no signal!) – It got me back in the zone again and also gave me a chance to do some reading. I’ve been reading “A Theory of Fun” (for game design) by Raph Koster. It’s a very lighthearted look at the whole game culture and well worth a read. It covers quite complex ideas in a way that doesn’t make them boring. It’s given me a few ideas which I’ll get down in a post when I have more time to work them up into something that doesn’t sound lame!

I’ve also been looking at Michael Wesch’s Library of Congress talk which is also in some senses inspirational and some senses slightly disconcerting. I love the bit about the rage culture and also about the mimicking that takes place on YouTube. People do use internet to communicate in a different way and these interactions are not something that should be taken lightly (but possibly lightheartedly).

The video blogging is interesting, personally I’d hate to video blog because I’d feel it was like talking to a huge audience of unknown people whose reaction you cannot judge, therefore it seems to me like performing on a world stage and not personal enough for me, I like to connect with people before revealing myself. Wesch discusses this in the talk and also the people on YouTube talk to YouTube so there are methods people use to define their audience.

.

I’m very much taken by the changes on our culture that Wesch talks about (away from local stores to big supermarkets etc.) and the disconnection and the effect this has on the people and perhaps explaining why we are using such a myriad of means to keep in touch with each other.

I love the bit about the anonymity and rage too. People using this to feel free to express themselves.