The Risk of Not Engaging

Tom_Fletcher_British_Ambassador_to_Lebanon_640_001As I was driving in this morning, I was listening to NPR Morning Edition, and they aired a story about British Ambassador Tom Fletcher‘s farewell letter to Lebanon.  Ambassador Fletcher has been at his post for the past three years, a time of tremendous strife with the Syrian conflict so close.

As moving as the story was, it was 5:30 into his interview that I heard something that really resonated with me as an educator.  He was talking about how the British Foreign Office encouraged its members to take risks, and he noted:

“…particularly with social media, the biggest risk is not to be engaged…”

He went on to note that of course there was the risk of saying something stupid, or of saying something that might inflame the wrong party, but that in many ways, the “best use of Twitter” is to use it for discourse and debate.  He noted that diplomacy is full of difficult issues, and Twitter provides a vehicle for “picking arguments and challenging people.”

It would be foolish to equate the rsocialmediatreeisks that Ambassador Fletcher faced with the risks that educators face in their classrooms, but I do like his take on social media and the opportunity it affords to take discourse and debate and move it outside the classroom.  Social media gives faculty the ability to engage with each other, with their discipline in and out of academe, and with their students, in ways we never had a decade ago.  One could “argue” that the heart and soul of scholarship and research involve picking arguments and challenging people (and ideas).

So what is your take?  Is there a risk for faculty in higher education to not engage with social media?

{Graphics: Najib, geralt}

A Dam Blimage Challenge

As I noted in my last post, a new blogging challenge has emerged called blimage – a “blog image” challenge: You must use an image sent to you and “incorporate it into your blog, and write a post about learning based on it…Then pass an image of your choice on to someone else so they can do their own #blimage challenge.” Read about the original idea here.

I so far have twice challenged my colleague Enoch Hale (who last year challenged me to a 30-Day Challenge with wicked fun results) and he responded with excellent posts here and here.  He in turn challenged me which resulted in my last post.  Now I have received another challenge from Enoch with this image of Ross Dam:


Ross Dam by werner22brigitte

Great image!

Do I focus on what is held back or what is released?

Holding back brings to mind fear, which brings to mind faculty discomfort with social media.  Behind the dam, the waters appear pretty calm.  The status quo is working, so why would faculty want to bring the disruption of social media into their classrooms?

Melissa Venable provides some thoughts in her post last year entitled “Face Your Social Media Fears“.  She noted that perhaps the importance of social media stems from the fact that is so widely used:

She suggested that faculty were concerned about privacy, looking unprofessional, going public in a traditionally private world, and managing the time investment social media seemed to require.  She gave practical suggestions on each of these concerns, and ended with two suggestions to keep it all manageable:

  • Find a good role model. Where are professionals in your career field or field of study engaging via social media? Spend some time on those platforms (e.g., LinkedIn, Google+, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest) first, and look for one or two people whose style and approach you can emulate and make your own.
  • Stay positive. Build your reputation, through your approach and the messages you send, as someone who is not only knowledgeable, but also helpful to others in the community.

Good suggestions.

So what can happen when you release the potential of social media in your classroom?


Marie Owens suggested in a post in Faculty Focus that faculty should view social media not as a concern but as an opportunity to connect with students. “By approaching the nearly constant online interaction of their students as a chance to connect, teachers might find a new context to do what they love to do: teach. ”

Like all aspects of teaching, the use of social media does not in and of itself lead to learning.  Knight and Kaye in their 2014 published study “To Tweet or Not To Tweet” found that students made greater use of Twitter for the passive reception of information rather than participation in learning activities.  Kelli Marshall had similar results until she made some mindful changes in how she used Twitter (and communicated that use).  Likewise, Mark Ferris used Twitter to add engagement to his statistics course.

Lisa Blaschke conducted research using questionnaires and interviews and incorporating the perspectives of both students and instructors on the use of social media in the online classroom, looking to explore how media influenced interaction and learner development. The results indicated that students perceived specific social media (Google Docs, mind mapping and e-portfolio software) in conjunction with specific learning activities as influencing specific cognitive and meta-cognitive skills (constructing new knowledge, reflecting on course content, understanding individual learning process). Her research also indicated an increase in student familiarity with using social media and student research skills.  She noted that “…it is evident that social media alone is not the exclusive factor in influencing cognitive and meta-cognitive development in learners. Rather, it is the combination of the pedagogy in the course design and delivery, together with the technology, that creates the kind of nurturing environment for this development to occur.”

In their book Teaching Crowds, Jon Dron and Terry Anderson quote John Seeley Brown and Paul Duguid from The Social Life of Information:

“Learning is a remarkably social process. Social groups provide the resources for their members to learn.”

We are only beginning to research the opportunities that social media bring to classrooms – motivation, engagement, ability to surface prior knowledge, and self-directed learning.  Yet I find the potential that can be released exciting!

My thanks to Enoch Hale for his challenge.  Back at you next week, buddy!

Graphics: {Brigette Werner, Wikipedia}

A Piece of My Network

Harold Jarche had an interesting post today on “Leveraging Visualization” that included his LinkedIn Connections.  His map shows lots of nodes amid his distributed connections.

It got me thinking about what my map might look like, so I used LinkedIn Labs website to create my own map:

LinkedIn Map

What is apparent (to me) is that I am a node connecting five different networks, but only two of them are tightly linked.  The yellowish network to the right is VCU related, while the blue and pink networks are edtech related (blue being Edubloggers).  Two institutions I have worked with remain islands in my total networked sea.  Quite different from Harold’s network, and again, it is a piece of my network.  While there are overlaps, many of my Twitter and Facebook connections do not show within this LinkedIn arrangement.



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An Updated Social Networking Map

A few years back, the online comic XKCD put out a Map Of Online Communities.  I used it as an icebreaker in more than one presentation or online class.

Now, Ethan Bloch has updated this view of the social media landscape with a new map:



I love the fact that even the lolcats got their own island!  Looking forward to sharing this with my Fall students!

{Graphic from Ethan Blochfull size here}

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The Socially Networked Student

kistI am currently reading Bill Kist’s new book, The Socially Networked Classroom. While written for all levels of education from elementary through postsecondary, he focuses on the use of social media in classes from middle school and above.  As I continue to work with K-12 teachers in my graduate course, this book addresses many of the concerns that my target audience has regarding the use of social media in schools.  This use of social media is equally relevant in higher education, and ties in nicely with the work we are doing here in the Center for Teaching Excellence.

There are several things I like about this book.  The chapter organization grabbed me right off the bat.  Anyone who knows me knows that I am a huge fanboy of coffee in general and Starbucks in particular.  I have been “wired” long before I learned about computers and the internet!  So when I noticed that Bill  had organized his chapters into Short, Tall, Grande, and Venti, I was hooked!  Interestingly, Bill notes that the coffee you get from Starbucks is the same whether you order a short or a venti – the only difference is the amount of coffee you receive.  He suggests that teaching with social media is similar – you can use a little or a lot, but the use of social media makes sense in today’s new media age.  That leads to the second thing I like about this book – he gives real examples of teachers and faculty who are walking the walk – using social media in practical ways to enhance learning in their classes.

As I was starting this book, I received a tweet pointing me to a Youtube video from a young 7th grader.  In this video, she gives a tour of her personal learning environment (PLE). This project was conducted as part of dissertation research implementing the use of networked learning and construction of personal learning environments in a 7th grade life science class, and it is quickly evident that this student has a teacher who walks that walk.  It is short, but worth the watch:

I would suspect that this is far from the typical 7th grader out there…but would you not love to have this student in your college class in five years?  She not only seamlessly uses various social media to research and learn, but she works in a meta way to display how she is learning.  I love that she sought out different scientists to validate her research on her blog and when one did not answer right away, she found another.  Are you ready for this student now?  Will you be ready in five years?  She and her peers are coming.

Of course, who knows what a socially networked classroom will look like in five years.  Some of the processes our young student is using above did not exist five years ago.  It is a rapidly evolving environment.  I liked what Derek Wenmoth suggested in a recent post, “Toward the Networked School…“.  As the use of social media becomes more integrated in daily life, the distinction between what is done face-to-face and what is done online blurs and merges.  Faculty worldwide are exploring the use of a networked class, as this example using wikis, blogs and social networks from Helsinki illustrates.  Howard Rheingold‘s Social Media Classroom as well as George Siemens‘ and Stephen DownesMassively Open Online Course on Connectivism are other relevant examples.  No one model will necessarily emerge, but like Bill’s Starbuck’s analogy, there will be varying amounts of social media in most courses in the future.

socialgraphHaving taught online for over a dozen years, I am used to connecting with my students outside “class” time, as the concept of class time is rather meaningless in an asynchronous environment.  Our higher education students are increasingly arriving in our classes equipped with skills they have developed through high school that involve socially mediated communication 24/7 (albeit for entertainment and socialization, not learning per se).  As faculty, we are increasingly looking to social media to connect with colleagues down the hall and worldwide for our own development.   The concept of a personal learning environment in which we are aware of and transparent in the metacognition of our own learning is as relevant for faculty as it is for the young lady above.

Bill asks towards the end of his book whether social networking will be used to free students or more tightly limit their freedoms.  I would suggest that these skills at connecting enhance rather than diminish the role of teachers and faculty.  The socially networked student above has taken control of her own learning, but it does not appear that this has pushed her away from her teacher.  In many ways, it appears that they have formed a closer bond.  It validates my own view of social media.  I look forward to having more and more of these socially networked students in my classes…and working with teachers and faculty to help them make those same connections.

{Graphic by socialmantic}

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Yes or No on Facebook


Facebook…it came up last week at UMW’s Faculty Academy, and has kept the blogosphere buzzing.  Most of the posts I have read have been negative about Facebook.  Rob Cottingham in Canada noted (and I love the dog cartoon):

This hasn’t been a good past few weeks for Facebook. Growing concerns over what Facebook’s deliberately doing to your privacy collided with news about what Facebook’s doing accidentally with your data.

There are two upcoming ways you can protest: by not logging in on June 6, or – if you’re ready to finally cut the umbilical cord – quitting altogether on May 31. So far, while they’re getting press attention, neither initiative is showing signs of snowballing yet, with registered followers numbering only in the hundreds.

That’s not to say the discontent is limited to net activists and privacy advocates. “How do I delete my Facebook account” is suddenly a very popular search on Google.

As I noted earlier,  danah boyd “ranted” about Facebook and “radical transparency.” (but I love how scholarly her rants are!).  CogDog barked about it…but provided some th0ughtful (if graphic) commentary on the issues of privacy and sharing.  One of his quotes:

I don’t place any value judgment on quitting versus not quitting Facebook; I think the bigger lesson is what happens when a simple system overlies something quite more complex and unfathomable. I am not naive to the information I give Google, because Google gives me back useful things, tools, information, yet Facebook feels somehow more sinister, more untrustworthy, more a murky fog covered minefield.

This mirrored remarks by Siva Vaidhyanathan last week at UMWFA10 where he stated that Google was vacuuming up all your data, but that Facebook was simply evil (and Google’s biggest competitor – because when you are on Facebook, Google cannot mine your data).

Pretty damning stuff.

Yet two other posts have me thinking about Facebook in a more positive light.  First, danah followed up her rant post with one on “Facebook is a utility; utilities get regulated.” She referenced Nancy Baym’s post last Thursday: “Why, despite myself, I am not leaving Facebook. Yet.” Nancy said:

I don’t like supporting Facebook at all. But I do. And here is why: they provide a platform through which I gain real value. I actually like the people I went to school with. I know that even if I write down all their email addresses, we are not going to stay in touch and recapture the recreated community we’ve built on Facebook. I like my colleagues who work elsewhere, and I know that we have mailing lists and Twitter, but I also know that without Facebook I won’t be in touch with their daily lives as I’ve been these last few years. I like the people I’ve met briefly or hope I’ll meet soon, and I know that Facebook remains our best way to keep in touch without the effort we would probably not take of engaging in sustained one-to-one communication.

The other was an announcement from Eduardo Peirano that College 2.0 was moving from it’s Ning platform to a Facebook group.  I have enjoyed membership in College 2.0 for the past three years and immediately joined the Facebook group.  With nearly 700 members, this move just made sense now that Ning is moving to a pay for use system.

I agree with Nancy.  I get real value out of Facebook.  It is where I tend to find pictures of my grandkids, stories of what is happening in the lives of my nieces, nephews and brothers’ families, and connections with my colleagues in Georgia and here in Virginia.  There are a ton of potential social networking sites that could provide these functions, but Facebook is the one ring that binds them all.

I have also tended to see Facebook as different from other social media sites that I use.  My use of Twitter, Slideshare, Flickr, and Ning have all been while wearing my professional hat.  My use of Facebook is as friend and grandfather.  I would not want to lose those connections…and I suspect Facebook is counting on this.  The Youtube video I embedded earlier this week speaks to the size and volume of traffic that is the Facebook “utility” – as danah called it.

So put me down in the column of working my privacy settings but remaining with Facebook…at least as long as this country continues to provide utilities.  Watching the debacle in the Gulf reminds me that this is not guaranteed either!

As always, I would be interested in your thoughts.  What do you intend to do with your Facebook account?

{Graphic mashed up from images by benmarvin and themookie99}

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Who Blogs Anymore?


Apparently not me.  When I started blogging two years ago, I was averaging three posts a week.  Now I am down to one a month for the past few months.

Luckily, there are those who do blog, as my Google Reader affirms daily!  I still enjoy reading blogs, but I have fallen out of the habit of routinely commenting and blogging myself.

A few weeks back, I finished reading a fascinating book by Scott Rosenberg called Say Everything: How Blogging Began, What It’s Becoming, and Why It Matters.  Having spent the past decade growing up with the internet, I found this book timely and full of interesting background around a subject that I thought I already knew!  It also is inspiring me to give my blog new energy!

In the opening eight chapters, Scott details how blogging began and grew by focusing on a person or two per chapter that highlighted his conceptual points.  He starts with Justin Hall, a nineteen-year-old in 1994 who began sharing everything about himself on his website, but more importantly, added links to other sites as part of his sharing.  Dave Winer began posting his own soapbox and invited others to do the same.  The early bloggers had to know HTML, but they helped each other figure out that it was not that hard to do.  Jorge Barger coined the term “weblog” (though he wanted it to be called Web Log because he thought “blog” was a hideous term!).  These early bloggers saw their role as a service – filtering the mass of information for their readers.

The chapter on Evan Williams, Meg Hourihan, and the development of Blogger was particularly interesting.  I found it fascinating that the same person who made blogging easy by developing Blogger also created Twitter, which in some ways is the reason I blog less.  If I were to name my personal learning aids, Twitter would be first and blogs/RSS reader second.

Sometime in the past week, I sent my 5,000th tweet – and that fact did not even register!  In the past two years, I have posted 157 times to this blog, so that would suggest that my choice for social dialogue is Twitter.  Yet, Twitter – while great for connecting and communicating – remains less a reflective medium than a reactive one.  And I still benefit from reflection.

Thus this blog continues to serve a useful purpose for me.

As tools such as Blogger made it easier to blog, the number of blogs continued to rise.  Some rose for political purposes, such as Josh Marshall‘s Talking Points Memo.  Others tried to make money off blogging, such as Robert Scoble and Michael Arrington of TechCrunch fame.  I have been a Boing Boing fan for several years, yet did not realize the rich history behind this website until Scott laid out its story.

Scott also detailed some of the darker sides of blogging, detailing the story of Heather Armstrong and how her blogging led to her being fired from a job.

The final three chapters review the rise of citizen journalism and its impact on mainstream journalism, as well as the evolution of blogging itself as more and more blogs develop (including of course my own blog).  As Scott noted, in the late 1990’s, the word “blog” did not even exist, and a decade later, 184 million people worldwide had started a blog.  Not all keep it up, but the impact on connections and communication remains staggering!  More importantly, just as there now seems to be “an app for that”, so too blogs cover such amazing diversities of fields that any area of interest probably already has a blog covering it.  It is simultaneously globally ubiquitous and razor sharp in its focus.

Blogging continue to evolve.  Scott noted that some of the energy that previously poured into blogs now pours into social media like Facebook or Twitter, yet people continue to look for ways to find their voice, and blogs serve that purpose well.

At our Center for Teaching Excellence, my colleague Bud Deihl has launched a new initiative around digital storytelling.  While his focus is the use of digital images to tell a story, in many ways blogging has always been about telling a story.  Scott ends by noting that bloggers are:

“…writers who sit down to type character after character, word upon word, day by day, steadily constructing, out of their fragments, little edifices of memory and public record…Individually they are stewards of their won experience; together they are curators of our collective history…”

Who blogs anymore?  I hope I continue to…and I hope others continue to not only reflect on my thoughts but offer me their wisdom in return.

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Timesharing Dogs

We had a fruitful faculty brown bag lunch conversation today.  The topic was Building Connections and Communities through the Web.  Ten folks present locally, and since Jeff Nugent was using UStream, another crowd actively joined via the internet.

I used these slides to guide the conversation:

My framing questions revolved around (1) “What is a community?”, (2) “Does building community enhance student learning?’, and (3) “What web tools can now be used to build connections and community?”.  I used three vignettes to illustrate my thoughts on social media and connections.  First, my many connections with Gabriela Grosseck through College 2.0, delicious, Google Reader, our blogs, Slideshare, and Facebook, all of which have informed my own teaching and learning.  Second, the viral reach of Slideshare for one of my presentations from last year.  And finally, a Twitter shoutout by Will Richardson earlier this week and the resultant comments tweeted by others.  These all illustrated connections, but I asked the participants to reflect on how one gets from connections to community (and the image below evolved out of a sketch Jeff made on the back of a notepad):

One participant said that social media to her was like visiting the SPCA.  She could not go in and choose one dog.  All dogs were lovable, all dogs needed to be adopted, and she would leave crying and unfulfilled.  When I suggested that maybe she needed to just rent a dog this week and a different dog next week, she said, that would be like timesharing dogs – an unworkable solution!

The conversation that resulted was rich and nuanced.  It flowed from professional versus personal digital identities, issues of privacy, student misunderstandings on their own digital identity, and time management regarding the tools.  Jeff made an excellent point of differentiating users of social media between broadcasters and instructional.  Broadcasters have to be present in multiple applications and visibly engaged in multiple applications.  Instructional uses suggest more nuanced approaches with clear boundaries.  Bud Deihl illustrated how “conversations” could start in one application and spill over into other applications, such as his networking with his fellow graduate students through LinkedIn.

There was some concern about how we as educators advise our younger students when we are just trying to figure out the – as Michael Wesch calls it – mediascape ourselves.  Conversations like we had today are one way – and commenting via blogs is another.  I would be interested in the thoughts of my readers on how you visualize using the Read/Write web to build connections and community, both professionally for yourself and instructionally for your students.

Of course, one benefit from today’s session was that I did pick up several new “friends” in Facebook!  🙂

ps – One unrelated and yet relevant event today.  I posted the above powerpoint in Slideshare last night so that I could embed it in our wiki and here in this blog.  Overnight, I got an email from Slideshare noting that the editorial team had selected it to be showcased on their Education page.  I also got tweeted by Gabriela saying that she had seen it there,  Another example of connections and community.

An International View

There was an interesting point raised by one of my VIF students in our online class taught by Jon Becker and myself this weekend.  Half of our online class are Visiting International Faculty studying for their Masters in Education here at VCU, and half are Virginia teachers studying in our Ed Leadership graduate program.

When I first arrived from Mexico to teach here, it was very noticeable for me to see that students here are more used to that kind of fast, graphic and entertaining way of displaying information or teaching and it took me some time to adapt to those “new students’ needs”. Here I have been in the process of becoming a digital resident.

I think that in developing countries, this change is happening but at a much slower pace because of the differences in access to the internet, just by looking at your ‘ClustrMap’ (in your Blog) and the red dots representing the access numbers from different countries, I could realize the way many countries are so far behind in terms of Web 2.0 tools usage.

I have been looking at the ClustrMap and seeing the connections spanning the continents.  He looked at the same map and saw the missing opportunities being illustrated by the sparseness of some of the dots.

This is one of the reasons I enjoy working with international faculty.  They help ground me in some fundamental truths.  Friedman, Shirky, and Weinberger have all pointed to the democratization afforded by the web.  All true, but evolving slowly and not there yet.

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Communities and Tools

A week from tomorrow, I am scheduled to lead a Brown Bag lunch session on “Building Community and Connections Through the Web.”

Bud Deihl and I were brainstorming this session (and he earlier also blogged about it).  As we talked, we realized that “community” is very nuanced.  The following slide emerged from our white board doodling:

So that got me wondering.  I belong to many communities.  Some of those communities overlap and others do not.  I use different tools with different communities.  In discussing the tools and their use to build connections, I thought I would tap into my blogging community to see how you would list tools matrixed with communities?  Does one tool suffice?  Do conversations in one tool spill over into other tools?  Are certain tools optimized for certain communities?

Some obvious tools that could be discussed as part of building community and connections include:

  • Twitter
  • Yammer
  • Blogs
  • Delicious / Diigo
  • LinkedIn
  • Google Apps (Reader / Docs / Sites)
  • Ning
  • Wikis
  • Netvibes
  • YouTube
  • Flickr
  • Slideshare
  • Jott

What am I overlooking?  Be interested in your thoughts.

Photo Credit: Dietmar Offenhuber, Judith Donath, MIT Sociable Media Group