The Leaky Social Media Question

There is supposedly an old Chinese curse that states, “May You Live in Interesting Times.”  I would think that this last week – the first week of President Trump’s administration – qualifies as interesting times.

As someone who teaches about social media in both leadership and education classes, it was fascinating to watch unfolding events around social media in the federal government…which has lessons for those of us anywhere in leadership.

On Tuesday, the new administration attempted to control any communication with the public, ordering employees at multiple agencies to cease communicating with the public through news releases, official social media accounts and correspondence.  This raised a firestorm of reaction, with the Department of Agriculture amending its policy:

“Yesterday, we sent an email message about Agency informational products like news releases and social media contact,” another email to employees said. “This internal email was released prior to receiving official Departmental guidance and is hereby rescinded.”

Not all agencies quietly complied. A series of tweets that went viral appeared to come from one of the National Park Services, quickly generating the hashtag #badasslands:

Officially, the Park Service reported that the tweets came from a former employee who still had access to their account.  The Park pulled down the tweets…but by then, many copies were circulating (as I am doing here).  A number of “rogue” Twitter accounts surfaced to continue pushing back against the perceived attack on science by this administration.

So one of the lessons is, in a digital age with multiple channels of communication – and the ability of anyone to communicate – “controlling” the message, whether from a federal department, a business, or an educational institution, is problematic.

Eighteen years ago, Jon Husband coined the term “wirearchy” – “a dynamic flow of power and authority, based on information, trust, credibility, and a focus on results, enabled by interconnected technology and people”.

Unlike a hierarchy, a wirearchy assumes openness and transparency.  In a digitally connected world, information is going to flow…control is no longer possible.  A 2014 Gartner report suggested:

“…Digital business is not just about expanding the use of technology. Digital business leaders must think about technology in a fundamentally different way than in the past…”

Westerman, Bonnett, and McAfee, in their 2014 book Leading Digital, noted that in the past, standardizing limited empowerment.  Controlling impacted innovation.  The desire to orchestrate action suggested “leashing” rather than unleashing employees. The wirearchial world in which we lead today requires the opposite – empowerment, innovation, and the unleashing of employees (or students).

My students in ILD 831 next week will be grappling with the implications of leadership in a hyperlinked world.   I look forward to seeing their thoughts on our class Netvibes site.

{Graphic: Hugh McLeod}

 

What is Truth?

In the New Testament Bible, John 18:38, Pilate responds to Jesus’s statement that he should bear witness to the truth with this question, “What is truth?”  Two thousand years later, we seem to still be grappling with this question.

TruthThis past year, 2016, was a year in which “truth” became very nuanced.  Oxford Dictionaries selected “post-truth” as the 2016 international word of the year.  It defined post-truth as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”  We saw this play out in the United States presidential election.  Fact-checkers described numerous times when candidate Trump stretched the truth, and yet this seemed to not matter to his followers.  According to a Washington Post-ABC News post last November, Trump was seen as more honest than Clinton by an eight-point margin.

This is the backdrop to next week’s EDU 6323 lesson on web-based search.  Google Search is the most used search engine on the web, handling more than 3 billion searches every day.  Last year’s statistics ranked it with nearly two-third’s market share globally.  The main purpose of Google Search is to hunt for text in publicly accessible documents offered by web servers. It was originally developed by Larry Page and Sergey Brin in 1997. I remember using Alta Vista before that…but Google rapidly became the search leader. Google Search provides several features beyond searching for words. These include synonyms, weather forecasts, time zones, stock quotes, maps, earthquake data, movie showtimes, airports, home listings, and sports scores. There are special features for numbers, dates, and some specific forms, including ranges, prices, temperatures, money and measurement unit conversions, calculations, package tracking, patents, area codes, and language translation. In June 2011 Google introduced “Google Voice Search” to search for spoken, rather than typed, words – an alternate to Apple’s Siri.

Search EnginesMy lesson includes an exploration of advanced search on Google, as well as an exploration of web site ownership through WhoIs and the Wayback Machine. I am asking my students to pick a 2016 political action committee from this website … and then first search for this PAC using Google to provide the baseline information for analysis. They will then compare their Google returns to those generated by Bing, DuckDuckGo and the Chinese search engine Baidu, Do they get the same results?  What is different? Which do they prefer?  Then I will have them analyze the website for their SuperPac to see if they can find who registered and authored that website. Using the Wayback Machine, they will see if they can determine how long the has website been around.

My hope is that this exploration will generate some discussion around “truth”.  Dan Rockwell noted this past week that when he asked CEO’s at a dinner what kept them up at night, several shared ideas around truth (among others):

  • Biased media creating mis-perceptions.
  • Seeking input from others.
  • Being viewed as trustworthy.
  • Navigating transparency.
  • Getting it right when people ask for advice.

The Chronicle of Higher Education this past week published a special report called “The Post-Truth Issue.”  Two articles stood out to me. Safiya Noble, in “Google and the Misinformed Public,” noted that “…Google and Facebook have no transparent curation process by which the public can judge the credibility or legitimacy of the information they propagate.”  She goes on to say:

“Online search can oversimplify complex phenomena. The results, ranked by algorithms treated as trade secrets by Google, are divorced from context and lack guidance on their veracity or reliability. Search results feign impartiality and objectivity, even as they fail to provide essential information and knowledge we need: knowledge traditionally acquired through teachers, professors, books, history, and experience.”

Lucy Ferriss, in “Post-Truth and Chaos,” had an interesting closing:

“Truth, in other words, is a thing — a goal, a bedrock, a provable hypothesis, a conclusion from evidence, an insight to which, per Keats, the perception of beauty can bring us. Post-truth is a strategy. Its relationship to truth is strategic. Its goal is the exploitation of emotion. And while it cannot kill truth, it does in a way look past it, as a hubristic traveler might try to look past that North Star, and find beyond it utter darkness, nothingness, chaos.”

Determining validity on the web should be a part of digital literacy.  At lunch this past month with Enoch Hale, Director of VCU’s new Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning, he made an interesting comment that his job really was more about “thinking” – thinking critically – than teaching or learning.  As we approach this next week, I want my EDU6323 students to think critically about what they find on the web, and about truth.

Truth?

{Graphics: Edgar, EvidenceUnseen}

Other Tools to Consider

In my ILD831 class for Creighton University this week, my 12 students will be looking at digital tools.  Using Jane Hart’s C4LPT Top 200 list as a starting point, they self-selected the following tools to explore and analyze from a leadership perspective (number indicates rank on the Top 200 list):
digital tools

As part of their analyses, they will be factoring in insights as they start to read David Weinberger’s Too Big To Know, as well as thoughts on an interview with Clay Shirky on the disruptive power of collaboration.  Their analyses will appear later this week in our Netvibes class page.

It is always interesting to consider the tools not selected by students as those selected.  Jane this year has divided her Top Tools into three sub-lists – Personal Learning, Workplace Learning, and Education – and noted the following:

  • “Individuals continue to reap the benefits of the opportunities offered to them on the Web to learn in all kinds of ways – both planned and unplanned, formal and informal, through content and people, online or on smart devices.
  • Education is also making use of a wide range of multi-purpose web-based tools – probably because they are free and easy to use – alongside dedicated educational tools.
  • Workplace learning, however, is still largely dominated by the use of traditional commercial tools for creating, delivering and managing e-learning. However, there is increasing use of new-style content development tools and greater use is being made of tools for social collaboration (and social learning) within work teams and groups.”

My class has business and non-profit executives, teachers and education administrators, military, corporate trainers, and healthcare managers.  What I will find interesting is not what tools they chose or how they might use them, but “why?” they might make a choice.  As an interdisciplinary group, I know we will learn from each other.

I found Jane Hart’s observations in each sub-group insightful.  Professionals reported to her that they were using digital tools to search and research the web, learn from others, aggregate and curate resources, store and sync their various files, and increase their productivity, using a variety of smart devices.  They reported a lot of experimentation on their own before they might bring a tool into the workplace or education.

In workplace learning, it was interesting and somewhat comforting that the number one tool was still Powerpoint.  As my students know from watching my class videos, I lean towards Prezi myself, but Powerpoint has advantages, not the least being accessibility.  Workplace tools included authoring tools, asset development tools (like infographics that I have played with), course management tools, and webinar tools. There is increasing use of time-line authoring tools, audience response tools, social tools, and web conferencing tools. I found it interesting that Jane noted the decreased use of FREE tools.

The opposite trend appeared in education, where free tools continue to be widely used along with commercial products.  Tools that increased interactivity were particularly popular.

Right Tool

After 10 years of reporting the top tools, one thing that remains in my thinking is that tools come and go, but the processes seem to become more focused and defined.  The specific tool is always less important than how and why it is being used.  I look forward to hearing what my students have to say this week!

{Graphics: kelcyc, Bob Crumb}

Smart and EdTech

A few days ago, I discussed my upcoming doctoral class on leadership in a wired world.  I will also be teaching a Masters of Education course starting next week.  EDU 6323 at Northeastern University is entitled Technology as a Medium for Learning.  We explore aspects of digital technology through the lens of Michelle Miller’s (2014) book, Minds Online: Teaching effectively with technology.  My course (adapted from one developed by Stan Anamuah-Mensah at VCU) flows like this:

I would like to think that this course explores “smart” uses of digital technology for learning…but “smart” has nuanced meaning now.  We are seeing more and more application of AI in our everyday life.  Just examine the Gartner Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies.

Smart dust, smart workspace, smart data discovery, smart robots…there are a lot of smart applications emerging!  Two books that I have read recently around smart technology are Martin Ford’s (2015) Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future, and Kevin Kelly’s (2016) The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 technological forces that will shape our future.   One scary…one hopeful…and both directly applicable to this course!

So I read with interest a short article this week in MIT’s Technology Review by Hossein Derakhshan.  In “A Smarter Web”, Derakhshab suggests that we need more text and links, and fewer images, videos and memes.  He noted how the early days of the web and it’s text-based blogs served to nurture varying opinions, while lately, social media apps like Facebook, Twitter and SnapChat have served to amplify existing beliefs, polarizing and fragmenting society.  He suggests that the lack of varying opinions had more to do with the outcome of the recent USA Presidential elections than false news.  Derakhshan suggests that a smarter web would be one that stepped backwards in time.

As I mentioned in my previous post, we are moving as a nation into a future where the old rules seem to have shriveled.  Robert Reich noted earlier this week that Trump’s tweets are becoming a new form of governing by edict..or “Tweedict” as he termed them.  In my EDU 6323 course, we will be using Twitter as a form of class communication using the hashtag #EDU6323…but hopefully in a more collaborative way than the Tweedict suggests!

In the third week of the course, we will explore validity on the web.  I am adding danah boyd’s recent Medium article – “Did Media Literacy Backfire” – to the reading for that week.  danah noted that media literacy asks people to question information and be wary of what they are receiving…but, in line with Derekhshan’s article, this has led to where we are questioning so much that we talk right by each other.  danah ends her article noting:

“The path forward is hazy. We need to enable people to hear different perspectives and make sense of a very complicated — and in many ways, overwhelming — information landscape. We cannot fall back on standard educational approaches because the societal context has shifted. We also cannot simply assume that information intermediaries can fix the problem for us, whether they be traditional news media or social media. We need to get creative and build the social infrastructure necessary for people to meaningfully and substantively engage across existing structural lines. This won’t be easy or quick, but if we want to address issues like propaganda, hate speech, fake news, and biased content, we need to focus on the underlying issues at play. No simple band-aid will work.”

So I know that my course will engage students and introduce them to new technologies.  But my hope is that my course will also begin to shift some paradigms and shake up some cultural norms.  Otherwise, their future students might not hear these different perspectives that they need to hear!  And that would not be smart!

 

Leading in a Wired World

Next week, I will once again be teaching a section of ILD 831 – Technology and Leadership – in Creighton University’s Interdisciplinary Doctorate in Leadership.  I have taught this course for five years and over those years, evolved the course, shifting the textbook from Tom Friedman’s (2007) The World is Flat to Clay Shirky’s (2008) Here Comes Everybody to currently Dave Weinberger’s (2011) Too Big To Know.  The course flow looks like this.

This is a fascinating time to consider leadership in a wired world.  As the past few weeks have illustrated, we have a government in transition in America in which policy implications are unfolding on the President-Elect’s Twitter stream.  What does this suggest for those studying leadership in courses such as mine?  At a minimum, old rules no longer apply!

We will have two sections of ILD 831 exploring topics around leading in a networked and wired world, and I look forward to the blog commentary that will start up later next week.  I will be aggregating posts in Netvibes, so feel free to join in and comment as you see opportunities.