#BYOD4L Barcamps, beer and where we take our own devices

#BYOD4L has run its course, but is not over. I have tasks I intend to complete and much thinking that has only started. The chats provided a good, engaging structure that allowed us, as participants, to think about things in parallel. Sometimes that involved actual interaction, either initiated by each of us or in response to planned, more formal activities like the TweetChats each evening. I think those of us involved in the course will remember those chats more than we remember other aspects of the course. The social engagement and commitment was a strong pull to establishing purpose and identity as a group and brought us back each evening.
The frenetic nature of the TweetChats determined the tone of the conversation; and it was certainly something that I would call conversation, if not exactly discourse. And this tone was helpful, informative, even sometimes challenging. It wasn’t dry, intellectual or overly ‘academic’, but was clearly scholarly. Let me explain this distinction.
The scholarly nature of the conversation came out of the pedigree and diversity of those who were taking part. It was the people that gave it its credibility and authority, whether that was reflecting on and sharing experience or simply sharing links. There was trust in the conversation. People tended to use the conjunction “and” rather than “but” and we knew that together we were adding to each other’s knowledge. One remarkable facet of that for me was the readiness of everyone, almost without exception, to state their lack of knowledge and experience as well as the dimensions with which they had experience to share. In an emerging and complex field like this it would be odd to find someone who regarded themselves as an expert. I don’t want to name experts, but we had a cohort made up of people with good publication records and who are well respected speakers in certain areas (if these can be used as legitimate measures of expertise). Yet we are all new to the emerging concept of BYOD4L; even those of us who having been looking at innovative pedagogy through mobile learning for many years. Not only is the technology in its multifarious guises so personalised and unpredictable, but the take up is organic and not led from the front, or at least not determined by a cognescenti. This upsets traditional and simple conceptualisations of expertise. I am reminded of the early ’90s when the Internet still felt anarchic in a good way before it was, in my opinion, defiled by people who felt the need to organise everything.
I noticed banter and a convivial atmosphere throughout my engagement with BYOD4L. Maybe this is just the way I am, but I felt it everywhere; a strong sense of care and interest.
Before the course ran, the discussion amongst the facilitators about our understanding of the environment we were fostering was an example of this: I proposed that if we were looking to express it succinctly we would not do much better than use the idea of Social Space for Open Learning; the idea of ‘space’ being important to me rather than online or even blended. Space, for me, represents a learner-centred view of ‘environment’ and is not something that needs to be prescribed. It is a fluid notion, as in ‘head space’ or ‘thinking space’ or opportunity. It is not static and fixed and provided. It is assumed by the learner. Ultimately the learner shuffles into their learning space so it fits them as snugly as possible.
This leads me to the role of beer, Barcamps, and informality in a Social Space for Open Learning (SSOL). The TweetChats happened for an hour from 8pm-9pm GMT. That point in the day, for me, when I am usually desperately winding down having just arrived home from my daily commute and my second daily dose of ‘train thinking’ – an active and reflective space that tops and tails my working day. And I heard similar accounts from others who were busy bathing children and doing whatever needs to be done in those twilight hours after work. The psychological contract is different. And we all have to respect that. It adds to a sense of parity and community. While we might have different roles and reasons for engaging, we are all autonomous in this TweetChat and in the #BYOD4L course (must find a better word for that) itself.
Because of my views on ‘space’ and my difficulty with specific references to ‘online’, ‘physical environment’ and so forth, I wanted to find out if there was a space for people to meeting socially in the same place and the same time, but in the spirit of SSOL. I realised there were several people within reach of Sheffield who were active in the course so I booked a meeting room for three hours and invited anyone following the #BYOD4L hashtag to drop in for some time and share or make something together. There were four of us in total, but not all at the same time. All groupings had really strong conversations. In the first group we had a wide ranging discussion about learning and teaching and the disruptive nature of BYOD. We also reflected on how good it was to meet in person. Rather than leave it simply as a conversation I suggested we make something, so we made a video about the different strengths of open and online learning compared with learning together in person. You can watch the video recorded by Rob Appleyard on his phone here.

It features Julie, myself and Rob’s voice (he held the camera, though we could have passed it around). So that was the notion of Barcamp, something I have not run for several years. It was briefer than other full day Barcamps I have run in the past. Actually the MELSIG events are quite inspired by Barcamps but tend to be more organised as they attract people in hundreds often and you have more responsibility in such events to make more of a structured promise.
Beer, wine, champagne and whisk(e)y all featured during the week. Some people joined us from pubs in the evening almost echoing the trend for the Philosophy in Pubs movement. Photos of pints were tweeted from pubs and from home. People mentioned the glass of wine they were enjoying. Two references to champagne were made with birthdays and other celebrations taking place. Several birthdays happened: mine, children, other participants and also events like leaving do’s. Even though #reallife took precedence, the mobile devices did infiltrate these events, discretely. People pre-chatted on Twitter or post-chatted if they weren’t able to be there for the specified time.
Then, I had made a promise to create a video diary each day. On day four this involved three videos with the final one book ending the day with a glass of whisky (yes, Irish spelling). I had one or two uncertainties about this. We hear about the student party pix (etc) on Facebook and how unprofessional these are. Did I really want to be toasting the camera in my video? I concluded yes, and that it was very professional to do so. In a ‘real world’ course I would value going to the pub with my peers (students and staff) and this would be quite an appropriate way of showing value for each other, sharing ideas and excitement. And this is exactly what I was doing. The video stays!
So, an intense five days, and one in which systematic learning was supported and enjoyed by all in an informal, convivial spirit. The week confirms my thinking that we experienced a Social Space for Online Learning.

Sue Beckingham has also posted on the nature of TweetChats in #BYOD4L in a post entitled “What the ‘tweet(s)’ has that all been about then? #BYOD4Lchat”.
Norman Jackson has also referred to the nature of interaction in his summary post Life’s an Ing.
Chrissi Nerantzi picks up on Norman’s suggestion for Commitment as a 6th C around which to structure the #BYOD4L course. In her post Chrissi also picks up on discussions that compare #BYOD4L to a MOOC. As noted above, this was a discussion we had as facilitators before the course kicked off and we were clear about the in appropriateness of that term for what we were doing. But these terms come to haunt us nevertheless. I remember being forever frustrated by people referring to any audio recordings as podcasts when clearly they weren’t in so many ways! Just grit your teeth Chrissi and focus on the what’s and the whys of what we’ve been doing!

About amiddlet50

Educational developer working in academic innovation in higher education in the UK
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2 Responses to #BYOD4L Barcamps, beer and where we take our own devices

  1. I am so glad you picked up the important of spaces (as opposed to physical places). A space to think, a space to learn, a space to share, a space to reflect, a space to…. I feel a mindmap is required as I try and visualise what this means to me.

  2. Pingback: Can we fix it or Day 5 #byod4l @melsiguk | Chrissi Nerantzi

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