Yesterday, as part of the SocMedHE20 conference, we ran a competition to guess where Hamish the Cow was. Hamish was originally knitted by me back in the old world of social contact, before we realised we’d have to run this year’s event online. I remembered him this week, so we devised a plan to photoedit him into a series of images of Glasgow and tweet them out during the day using the hashtags #WheresHamishNoo and #WinHamishTheCoo We had a lot of fun. Maybe you will too.
Today I gave a presentation for the #SocMedHE20 conference. It was a conference with a difference as it was all online – presenters were asked to submit up to 5 tweets which we then scheduled to be tweeted from the conference account. Here’s mine – partly done to nudge myself to write a paper about it (the conference will have a special issue of the Journal of Social Media for Learning). Here’s what I said as a warm up:
My basic idea is that, at least for those of us who practice and share out in the open, learning can be seen as a performance – in a similar way to the thought that teaching is a performance (the sage on the stage). I’ll be using #CLMOOC and #DS106 to illustrate my answer.
Herons are beautiful birds. So big -huge wings and very distinctive in flight. When on the ground they often blend into the background, but here are some pictures I’ve taken this month. This one down at Victoria Park:
Victoria Park again – different day, but probably the same heron. I love it when they perch like old men in macs:
And another – almost certainly a different bird – at Mugdock last week:
One of the few blessings of lockdown has been our discovery of Mugdock. We always knew it was there, but recently we’ve been visiting regularly. Such beauty on our doorstep, and views like this:
I’ve been involved in open learning for several years now. It started almost by accident, when some guy called Dave ran a crazy learning experience that we called rhizo14, carried on serendipitously into a sister experience called CLMOOC, and gradually became a part of my daily ritual as I started participating in Daily Creates. Much of what happens in these open, online experiences can appear to be random and unstructured, but beneath and behind them is a set of core principles and values and a tried and tested design. Those can be broadly summed up as belonging to an educational framework called connected learning. That’s helped me to learn some tricks to help all of us (staff and students) to teach and learn online. They’re at the end of this post, for those wanting to skip straight to the punchline.
Connected learning is a work in progress. It begins from an (intuitively plausible, I think) set of beliefs in the value of learning that is interest-driven, peer-supported and academically relevant, and harnesses the power of social media in order to make these types of learning better integrated into learners’ lives while attempting to make it accessible to anyone who wants to participate (equity is a core value). As such, it is platform and technology agnostic, although the values of open education are central to what practitioners do.
At the heart of connected learning is the thought that we live, nowadays, in a participatory culture. Sometimes people describe this as “Web 2.0”, but participatory culture is actually a richer concept than that. Henry Jenkins contrasts the concept of “interactivity”, which he describes as a relationship between a customer and a software company and a property of some social media platforms, and “participation” which is a relationship between people (which can be facilitated by use of social media). This means that we can’t take student engagement for granted, we have to explicitly design it into our courses. For those familiar with the terminology, I might use this distinction to explain the differences between xMOOCs and cMOOCs. I say this to note a difference, and not to imply that cMOOCs are always superior – knowledge acquisition and participation in learning are not, imo, contradictory concepts – each has its place. Anna Sfard makes this point better than I could.
To an outsider, learning in the open can look unstructured and random, and those new to this type of learning and teaching can feel overwhelmed, out of their depth, unsure of their own abilities, frustrated, scared or even angry. This goes for both learners (often called participants) and educators (often called facilitators). This is why it is so important to design these experiences carefully, and to think carefully about the types of support that can be provided. I think, in the interesting times that lie ahead of us, we are all going to need all the support we can get – both to keep ourselves going, and to help our learners. Teaching and learning online can be an isolated experience, as those of us who do it know only too well.
So how can all of this help us now? First of all I should stress that I’m not suggesting that everybody immediately abandons whatever they are doing and redesign their courses so that they are connected learning experiences – I’m not trying to make more work for anyone. What I am going to tell you about is some tried and tested strategies that have helped the community that I am a part of to emerge and continue. I’m not pretending to have invented any of these strategies either – just to have used or experienced them for myself.
- Remember that your learners will be in many different time zones, some of which will have better connectivity than others. People who can’t participate are likely to feel very left out and uncared for. Think about asynchronous activities as well as synchronous ones.
- Some learners will have state of the art technology, others … won’t. Think about designing activities/resources that can load on different devices.
- Realise that there is no such thing as a digital native: some (staff and students) will find it easy to adapt to this new way of teaching and learning others … won’t. We can’t predict who will and won’t adapt. Think about how to support staff and students who just can’t work out how to log in/submit/engage.
- Don’t rely on one platform or one mode of delivery. Systems could be overloaded, or not available for a particular device, or not available in a geographical area (YouTube content, for example, can be restricted by geographical area). Yes, this could mean duplicating important content/messages in order to ensure that everyone who needs can access them.
- Don’t force anyone to use a particular platform (other than official, institutionally supported ones). Your students might well have ethical objections to using a particular one. Respect those. Never require anyone to sign up to a (non-institutionally supported/“official”) platform in order to participate. Data rights are human rights.
- Tap into the altruism of others. Nurture a community that helps each other (both staff and students). Model this yourself, watch for others doing it and publicly thank them. Think about the types of roles that might be needed to build a learning community: as well as you (the teacher), you might look for particularly active and/or knowledgeable students to become mentors.
- Structure informal activities that people can engage in if they want. These don’t have to take a lot of time to design – you might ask students to share something unique about where they are living, to tell others about their hobbies, pets, or family. You could ask them to do this by sharing a small image, a link to a website, or a forum post. These help participants to feel that they belong and can build a sense of community over time.
And, finally, reach out to others around you. Use your networks and don’t be afraid of saying that you are finding something hard. My initial experiences of all of this was a baptism of fire. Those who watch me nowadays often think that I always find it easy to participate, and have always found it easy, but that’s not true. In fact, I nearly dropped out of an early connected learning experience (CLMOOC 2015) because I was feeling lost, confused and overwhelmed. What happened next was, I realise, due to the carefully designed support structure that was in place. I shouted out into the void and someone answered. The rest, as they say, is history.
I don’t want to move educators. I’d like to spread the understanding that platforms that you pay for with your attention, and then that attention is manipulated, may not be the best place to direct our pupils data and attention.
A start along that path might be to think of a blog that you either own and control or is owned by a benevolent entity (Scot Gov in this case) is the best place to store your data, memories etc. From there, they can be sent out to social networks.
Ideally, IMO, there would be a benevolent network or system that would eventually work well enough to replace commercial but free, services.
I learned of our bishop's translation on Facebook before elevenses on the Saturday when, we had been told, the appointment of the Bishops' choice for Glasgow would be announced. No longer an election because the electors of the diocese had been unable to find a suitable candidate, this was to be a choice, as happened to the Diocese of Argyll some nine years or so ago. Presumably the College of Bishops knew how they were heading before Saturday's meeting - I cannot for a moment imagine it was a Spirit-driven spur of the moment thing. And I learned of it on Facebook. And on Twitter. And then there were the photos on Instagram. And great was the rejoicing thereof, and not a word about the Diocese of Argyll and The Isles.
The announcement was in the pew sheet the next day - the same announcement people like me had seen online. It came as no surprise to me, but in my generation I am known as a social media peculiarity. I could hear the indrawn breaths. And people felt bereft, and just a tad let down. Our last incumbent left to become a bishop - but that, to be honest, was not unexpected. Bishops tend merely to retire, and retirement, like old age, does not come as a surprise.
At this point, I need to make one notable exception to the torrent of well-meaning explanation as to why this was really needed for Glasgow diocese - as if I needed told. One Glasgow priest had the pastoral sensitivity to respond to my early shocked reaction, not with explanation but with an expression of sympathy and concern, and the assurance of prayer. It is a sad reflection on the church as an organisation that this simple, priestly act brought a tearful response.
There needs to be a serious look at how these things are managed in this era of instant communication. We are no longer waiting for the white smoke, for the revelation of who the latest bishop is to be. Someone gets carried away - for whatever reason - and posts online. Happens in politics all the time. But this is the church. We are supposed to think of our bishop as our Father in God. This is like telling a family that actually the family across the water - for that is where the receiving diocese is for us here - can't stop bickering and so your father is being sent to look after them. You're a sensible lot, they say - you can manage on your own. And they tell you, not even in a private message or a text, but on social media. A done deal.
The truth is that yes, we can manage. As long as we feel loved, and cherished, and valued for our contribution to the church - not financial, but because we're faithful. But take that for granted, forget to include us in your thinking - no. The College of Bishops, which includes some perfectly savvy media operators, needs to think about the effect of their decisions and the pastoral care of the people without whom there would be no church. It is not the Bishop that keeps going an individual charge like the one in which I participate. It's the passion of the laity, kept aflame, if we're lucky, by the ministrations of our clergy. My church is in a good place just now, spiritually and organisationally. But some of us today are feeling let down by the very people who should be caring for us all.
As I write this, I've found that some people in Glasgow diocese have become aware that there have been failings. I've had two series of supportive messages and an apology, and I appreciate them all. But none of them came from the source that should have managed the whole situation, and none of them has been directed to the people of Argyll and The Isles. For the sake of the diocese and the sake of the Church, I hope it's not too late.
I’m doing a MOOC from Futurelearn at the moment with some friends: Social Media Analytics: Using Data to Understand Public Conversations It’s interesting, I am getting to use some familiar software (TAGS) and some new stuff (Tableau), and it’s good to think through all of this with others. One of the topics for this week is the concept of public spaces – how a hashtag can create them. And, as a result of that I’d started thinking about public and private spaces, and conversations I’d had in the past about how, though Twitter is public, sometimes one does not like to join in a conversation one sees as it’s not clear whether those speaking would welcome the intervention, or see it as an intrusion. (For the record, if I am tweeting to some people and others want to chip in, that’s great – that’s one of the reasons I’ll be tweeting and not using email, Facebook, or any of the other more “private” spaces I have.)
But, as I say, the MOOC has got me thinking – and one of the things it’s got thinking about is this: who owns a hashtag? This post has been brewing for a couple of days now – and at the back of my mind was the idea that I’d introduce it by telling a funny story, then something happened that gave me pause. Well, I’ll tell you both stories …
Ages ago, probably when something like a rhizo or a pop up CLMOOC was happening, some of us happened upon a hashtag. You know how it is – you’re chatting, you hashtag your tweet with #SomethingYouThinkAmusingOrApt and think no more about it. Maybe your friends also use the hashtag. Tweets and Tweeps can do that. But not this time. Oh, no. This time was different. As we carried on conversing (without the #AmusingOrApt hashtag), a very angry person replied to us all. Apparently we were USING HER HASHTAG. Hers, just hers. Her hashtag for her personal use. She had bagsied it and that meant that nobody else could use it. NEVER. NOT EVER. Well, as I recall, we ignored her and left her to her solitary tweeting (honestly – she was tweeting onto a void using the hashtag – nobody was replying to her or “liking” her tweets), but it made me think: can somebody really own a hashtag? Can one person, or a group of people, dictate to others how they can and can’t use it? Surely not – that’s just not how Twitter works. But then this happened …
I noticed a Tweet this morning that interested me. It was hashtagged #LTHEChat, and hence came up in one of my columns in TweetDeck. It was about learning and teaching in HE, the person tweeting was an #LTHEChat “regular” as were the others in the conversation. It seemed relevant. I replied, also with the hashtag. That’s how Twitter works. But, then, I got a notification of a reply to us and saw this:
Looks like a great topic for a future #LTHEchat! But perhaps not in the channel for the current one?— LTHE Tweetchat (@LTHEchat) November 20, 2019
Hmmm. Well, I am not sure. Is that how it works? Do the volunteers behind the “official” Twitter account get to be hashtag monitors? Maybe. The chat happens on Wednesday evenings from 8-9pm, and I can see that part of a facilitator’s role might be to keep conversations roughly on track. Maybe. But does that mean that nobody can use the hashtag for other conversations, at other times? Surely not. So if we, as a community (I think that #LTHEChat is a community now, by the way), want to use the hashtag outwith the regular chat times, should we be policed? Of course, in a sense, nobody can STOP me using any hashtag I want, but if we’re talking about social niceties (which I think I am), then what sort of conventions would we like to see in place, or follow ourselves?
I don’t have hard and fast answers to this. I do think it’s worth talking about. So I am going to publish this now and tweet it. And I am going to hashtag it #LTHEChat. You can tell me if you think I am out of order for doing this.
“Got Hash Tag?” flickr photo by cogdogblog shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license
Last week the ALT Conference took place in the magnificent McEwan Hall at the University of Edinburgh. Chaired by Melissa Highton, Keith Smyth and Louise Jones, the conference was a huge success, thanks in no small part to the ALT Team, and a large number of volunteers from across the ALT community. As Martin Weller pointed out in his blog post, The Meticulous Informality of ALTC, it takes a lot of hard work and expertise to make running such a big conference appear so effortless. And as always, it was a real pleasure to be able to contribute to the conference as part of the ALTC Social Media Dream Team. I even got a badge this year!
I’ve written before about my experience of livetweeting the ALTC keynotes, and how it differs from tweeting from my own personal account. When I’m providing formal social media coverage I also have a different experience of actually participating in the conference, and listening to the keynotes in particular. I tend to be so focused on listening, summarising and typing, that I often get to the end of the keynote and realise that I can barely remember even half of what the speaker has said! So it’s really useful to me to be able to look back over the livestreams and the tweets and to read all the post-conference blog posts to fill in the gaps.
One of the things that really struck me this year was how closely all three keynotes focused on the key conference themes of Data, Dialogue and Doing.
Revisiting the affordances and implications of interconnectedness and socially mediated publicness
– Sue Beckingham, Sheffield Hallam University
Sue set the scene with a wide ranging opening keynote covering the long history of the myriad technologies that collect and process our data in various ways, shapes and forms; from the panopticon to the Echo Dot, via keystroke tracking, store cards, VLEs, facebook and the invisible algorithms of the web. Sue asked how many of us read the terms of service of the websites and apps we sign up to? How many of us know how our data is being used?
Sue also highlighted the pros and cons of engaging with social media. Twitter can be toxic, filled with disinformation, misinformation and fake news, but it can also be invaluable for promoting research, disseminating crisis communications, highlighting achievements, and building community. Sue stressed that it’s no good banning social media, we need to have meaningful conversations with students about how their data is being used. And we also need to ensure that those who are marginalised from our education communities are accepted, wanted and drawn in. Sue quoted Fosslien and West Duffy who define “diversity as having a seat at the table, inclusion as having a voice, and belonging as having that voice be heard”. Social media can enable diverse voices to be included and heard but we need to be cognisant of how our data is being used by these platforms.
Watch Sue’s keynote https://altc.alt.ac.uk/2019/sessions/altc-keynote-sue-beckingham/
Critcal Pedagaogy, Civil Disobedience and Edtech
– Jessie Stommel, University of Mary Washington
Jessie picked up on many of the themes Sue introduced. Within a framework of critical pedagogy and digital agency he explored the interfaces between agency, data and technology, and how the tools we use as educators influence our relationship with our students. Jessie urged us to ask hard questions of vendors and to engage students in this critical evaluation. What assumptions about learning and teaching does a tool make? What data does it collect? Who has access to it? Is it accessible? To visually impaired, to introverts, to extroverts?
Jessie argued that while some tools can be hacked to good use, others have bad pedagogy baked in and are problematic to the core. It was no surprise that the tool he chose to shine the spotlight of critical evaluation on was Turnitin. It’s easy to critique Turnitin from many different perspectives, not least of which is that it effectively has a monopoly on student writing, with a staggering 98% of UK HE institutions subscribing to its services. Jessie highlighted Turnitin’s problematic Terms of Reference but, perhaps more importantly, he also argued that Turnitin has suspicion of students baked into it and entrenches the belief that students are not to be trusted.
“We are opting in to a culture of suspicion of our students and Turnitin enables this.”
Jessie reminded us that our students are human beings not data assets. We need to trust our students, to learn from and with them, and we need to believe what they tell us about how they learn. Throughout his keynote Jessie returned again and again to Paulo Friere and bell hooks with their focus on learning as a space of wonder and marvel and the importance of generating excitement, joy and pleasure in education. Quoting bell hooks Jessie reminded us that
“If we’re not talking about joy we’re doing something wrong.”
Watch Jessie’s keynote: https://altc.alt.ac.uk/2019/sessions/altc-keynote-jesse-stommel/
Learning, Teaching and Technology
– Ollie Bray, The Lego Foundation
Ollie certainly brought excitement and joy to his keynote when he handed out packets of Lego to the entire audience and challenged everyone to make a duck in 40 seconds! We ended up with as many different ducks as delegates, but Ollie pointed out that every duck was meaningful to the person who made it. Furthermore, the activity itself was meaningful because it was actively engaging, socially interactive, iterative and joyful. These are typical characteristics of a playful experience and they are also characteristics of an excellent learning experience.
Ollie challenged us to think about how we could reimagine learning as it could be, while still working within the distinct boundaries of our education systems and social contexts. Creative skills are highly contextual and it’s important to develop personalised skills that suit specific needs.
Picking up on another of Jessie’s themes, Ollie noted that we hear a lot about learning from our students, but less about learning with them. If we want young learners to be creative, we need children and adults working together in co-creative learning teams. Despite the rhetoric that AI will “solve” education, solving complex problems comes down to people, pedagogy and leadership.
Watch Ollie’s keynote: https://altc.alt.ac.uk/2019/sessions/altc-keynote-ollie-bray/
One of the things I loved about Ollie’s keynote was that it rippled out beyond the bounds of the conference. Lots of delegates took the Lego duck challenge home and posted pictures of ducks made by their families. These are the ducks my family made. I’m sure they’re meaningful to them somehow :}
[This post was previously posted on the ALTC website.]
What to expect from the ALT Conference’s social media channels and how to get involved.
The ALT Conference is almost upon as and we’re looking forward to welcoming delegates to the city and University of Edinburgh. Edinburgh is a wonderful city to visit at any time of the year, but we appreciate that traveling to attend conferences is not always practical or possible, so in order to ensure that the conference is as accessible and inclusive as possible, ALT provides a range of online channels to enable you to participate in the conference remotely. Frances Bell has already written a really helpful post on how to participate in the conference online.
In addition to watching the ALT conference livestream, and signing up for VConnecting sessions, you can engage with the conference through ALT’s social media channels and the #altc hashtag, which is already hotting up as delegates prepare for the conference.
The ALT Conference has always had a really lively and engaging social media presence, which draws in participants from all over the world. I’m delighted to help facilitate this as part of ALT’s social media team, along with partners in crime Rich Goodman (@bulgenen), from the University of Loughborough, and photographer Chris Bull (@chrisbull1980). My role is to livetweet the conference keynotes from ALT’s official twitter account @A_L_T, while Rich will be tweeting Chris’ photographs, which really capture the buzz and energy of the conference. You can see Chris’ pictures from last year’s ALT Conference on ALT’s flickr channel, and in keeping with ALT’s strategic commitment to openness, they’re all Creative Commons licensed.
CC BY NC 2.0, Chris Bull for the Association for Learning Technology on flickr
I’ve written several blog posts over the years about my experience of live tweeting the ALT conference, and in my CMALT portfolio I reflected on the difference between tweeting for ALT in an official capacity, and tweeting from my own personal account:
Live tweeting in an official capacity for events such as the ALT Conference requires a different approach to live tweeting from my own personal account. When I live tweet on behalf of an event organiser I try to keep my tweets as factual, neutral and representative as possible. It’s important not to misrepresent the speaker or inadvertently tweet anything that might bring the organisation into disrepute. If I’m tweeting personally, I tend to tweet the points that interest me, adding my own thoughts and comments along the way.
The ALT Conference has a justifiable reputation for the quality of its keynotes, and this year is no exception. Although it can be a little daunting, it’s a real privilege to livetweet such inspirational speakers.
It’s hard to overestimate the influence Sue Beckingham (@suebecks) has had on the learning technology community in the UK, through her blog Social Media for Learning, the weekly #LTHEchat twitter chat, and the open online course Bring Your Own Device for Learning. Sue brings a nuanced and critical approach to the use of social media in teaching and learning and is generous in sharing her practice and experience with the community.
I heard Ollie Bray (@olliebray) speaking many years ago when he was Head Teacher at Kingussie High School and I remember being really intrigued by his inspirational approaches to teaching and learning and innovative use of technology and social media, so I’m really looking forward to hearing about and livetweeting his recent work connecting play and education at the LEGO Foundation.
I’m particularly thrilled to hear Jesse Stommel (@Jessifer), as I’ve followed him on twitter for some time and I’m a huge admirer of his work. Just a few weeks ago I was following the Digital Pedagogy Lab, co-founded by Jesse, on twitter and though I only dipped my toe into the incredibly rich stream of tweets it was a really rewarding and thought provoking experience.
Whether you’ll be with us in Edinburgh or joining us remotely, we’d encourage you to get involved with the ALT Conference online. You can do this by:
- Following the official ALT twitter account @A_L_T / https://twitter.com/A_L_T
- Following the conference hashtag #altc
- Tweeting your own comments, reflections and pictures on the #altc conference hashtag.
- Sharing your photographs online, remember to use the #altc hashtag and add an open licence!
You don’t need a twitter account to read @A_L_T’s tweets and to follow the #altc tag, but you do need an account if you want to retweet and comment.
And of course no ALT event would be complete without the occasional #shoetweet!
#altc #shoetweet, CC BY, Lorna M. Campbell
So put our best foot forward and join us in Edinburgh and online for #altc
We’re all thinking about dots. Sheri reminds us that this is not a new conversation. Terry responds and starts teasing out the metaphor. Dots and lines, or overlapping circles? Maybe both, maybe more. We don’t have the words to represent to ourselves this complex conceptual scheme. (A recurring memory: in a philosophy of science lecture we are described as three dimensional slices of four dimensional space-time worms.)
Wendy sees pictures in poems. I see pictures in my head – pictures I can’t translate onto paper because they are too transient – shape shifting wisps of mental smoke that drift at the edge of my mind. Blobs of ink dropped into water – blending with others yet keeping their shape. I try to represent what I see, but I just make a mess.
We bounce ideas off each other and they ricochet off in unexpected tangents (Wendy, again). (Another memory from philosophy of science – Newton’s “billiard ball” theory of causation.) A wirearchy, not a hierarchy.