Being visibly present in two places – further reflections on tweetchat participation

Sue Beckingham has posted on her experience of last week’s physical-digital tweetchat: Reflecting on my experience of digital transient CPD #SEDAconf #SEDA_NETS

In these posts we are reflecting on the nature and quality of our presence, and the relationship of physical situation to virtual presence and engagement. Sue notes that people who are co-located in the physical space do not immediately notice (or therefore recognise the validity of) synchronous learning engagement with social or other online media. I know in my own open plan office I am guilty of walking up to someone’s desk to begin a conversation without noticing that they are engaged in a ‘legitimate’ online activity such as a webinar or phone call. In our minds we see the PC as a workhorse for email and word processing and forget its use as a vibrant learning space.

Real learning engagement through social media

There is something to think about here in terms of engagement, visibilities, presence and contribution. If we see educational value in the tweetchat or in other synchronous (interactive and non-pausable) media, then we might like to think critically about  spatial conditions for effective learning. Here are some ideas we might like to think about:

  • Attendance or participation – While we note that social and synchronous media and personal smart devices can increase access to learning anywhere and at any time, to what extent do we as academic tutors want to advocate ‘any how’? Is there a danger, for example, that acceptance of simple ‘attendance’ and superficial engagement will come to define the teaching-learning nexus?
  • To what extent is ‘turning up’ good enough? When is a learning space not really a place of learning? How do we signal an expectation for deeper and critical involvement in open and social media environments amongst students? Learning is not learning until it involves… learning! That is defined for me by the student’s acceptance of a personal or given challenge. Social media as a learning space is defined therefore by its relationship to foster engagement with a learning challenge. This is how we distinguish between simple opportunity and a learner’s critical engagement.
  • To what extent is our apparent presence in online events disengenuous if we are potentially open to distraction by the PC, other media or people? To what extent should we assume a responsibility to our co-learners (who are always potentially co-producers of learning in an effective learning space)?
  • Social presence as defined by Short, Williams, and Christie (1976) as, “the degree of salience of the
    other person in the interaction and the consequent salience of the interpersonal  relationships” or Gunawardena (1995) as “the degree to which a  person is perceived as a ‘real person’ in mediated communication.” Sung and Mayer (2012)  describe social presence as the degree to which a student feels personally connected with others.
  • Visibility in a learning network is defined, not by the learner’s avatar (the virtual bum on seat), but by the visible evidence of their engagement as co-producer within the social learning space or as an outcome of their engagement in the case of learning by lurking.

This raises questions about how important it is to define a learning space as a pre-requisit to engaging learners. I have heard people defend the right to lurk in a learning space. I couldn’t disagree with that if you were to push me, however social constructivist situations generate learning through co-production. Co-production involves learning through giving and shaping thinking. Ethically, is it enough to be a silent un-giving partner when the very learning design is establish around social contribution? Pedagogically the learner is missing out by maintaining a passive relationship, but is it fair to leave the social construction to others and, in doing so, detracting from the energy in the learning space (physical and/or virtual) and withholding the value that could be added?

Returning to the tweetchat and/or the workshop, I propose that a facilitator’s role should be coercive by admiring participation (I heard Sugatra Mitra use this idea of admiration as facilitation today – more later), but also by making participants aware of their responsibility to each other as co-producers.

About amiddlet50

Educational developer working in academic innovation in higher education in the UK
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