First, and significantly, let me thank my colleagues and co-facilitators of #socmedhe18 which happened at Nottingham Trent University on Wednesday. I will reflect separately on the power of friend-based collaboration as a disruptive basis for creating a stimulating learning environment (though I touch on it at the end of this post). For the moment this post explores how not being there in person is not equivalent to exclusion; indeed, I will ask, how can non-attendance contribute to a thriving learning environment?
I couldn’t turn up.to the #socmedhe18 conference, despite being one of the organising group and one of the originators of the conference in 2015. This was the fourth annual conference looking at the pedagogic role of social media for learning in higher education. After three years at Sheffield Hallam it was time to form a new approach to running and hosting the conference. At the last conference at SHU some of us said we needed to ensure the conference lived on beyond its association with the university – after all, its success was clearly defined by the people (it’s own social network).
But I started a new job on Monday at Anglia Ruskin University based in Cambridge and turning up on site in Nottingham for the conference was not going to happen. So clearly I gave up and walked away…. No! It became an opportunity to prove a few things about social media for learning (mostly points I have published in various places, so here I am just proving the points and my arguments).
Social media is disruptive
It disrupts, and proves invalid, the concept of formally defined learning space. Formality is a conceit designed for the convenience of systems managers and has little to do with learning. Participation in learning is not dependent upon enclosure eg classrooms and other formal material spaces, on or off line. Student-centred learning design must be primarily driven in the interest of the learner to support their innate curiosity and their will to participate. I love this community, its diversity, its richness, it’s readiness to experiment and challenge each other. Of course I was going to be there… even if I couldn’t be there!!!
Social media disrupts hierarchy by promoting the multilogue. Everybody gets a chance to contribute and each contribution exponentially multiplies in value (assemblage theory). Indeed, the listlessness of a learning environment is multiplied inversely when attendees are not able to participate. A social media space is networked and it works best when it disregards many conventions and traditions; often the products of long-standing constraints and legacy value systems. The social media space, used wisely, exemplifies the wisdom of the crowd and co-production. I blogged and tweeted prior to the event and produced the #mugafesto activity which was designed to elicit the latent wisdom of the crowd through co-production and connectivity. I literally used social media (YouTube, this blog, tweets) to bring my simple suggestion and voice into the conference. My 3 minute intervention was simply a catalyst to release the wisdom of others and, in and of itself, conveyed no authority or critical wisdom other than, the crowd in its wisdom will be right (essential Connectivism 101).
Social media distrupts and dispels the myth that learning is dependent on monodidacticism (a single directing voice). Distributed leadership, networked authorship, and networked determinism (a networked interpretation of heutagogy?) will drive an effective learning event if allowed. I had faith and trust in others that the essential proposition of the #mugafesto activity was sound, being clear enough and easy to follow. Some people would understand and engage with it as I intended, some would seek to adapt it more to what they wanted, others would not be clear and would trust it and themselves enough to have a go and find and create value in the process anyway. That’s what happened. If I had been in the room I would have been asked too many questions like, “Am I doing this right?” “Is this what you mean?” I wasn’t in the room. I wasn’t even online at the briefing (I guess I was in an induction meeting!) I couldn’t help, even if I wanted to. But I know that people naturally make sense enough of situations when they feel motivated (They don’t cry and crumple. We are sentient and social!). The teacher is not needed to teach all the time (but traditionally they teach all the time because they are in the room and feel like a spare part otherwise!! (This becomes a challenge when moving to active pedagogy).
Social media disrupts a tacit denial of friendship. In many learning environments the peer learning relationship is neither recognised nor fostered, yet peers (full of potential, naturally good human spirit, knowledge, and mutual need) sit isolated side-by-side. Social media space is better understood as place. It is founded on trust, assumptions of mutual curiosity, latent creativity, and co-operative spirit. It fosters a sense of belonging and becoming, through the doing (activities in which we engage) and the being (the habits, cultural norms and agency) we assume as co-protagonists. Friendship, if not the fuel, is the lubricant that makes it near-on inevitable that with a simple prod the cogs will begin to whir almost under their own steam building a momentum that is hard to pull up. My challenge was only to create a little gravity (both meanings) in the knowledge that my organisers in the room could prod the curiosity machine into action. (Thank you colleagues).
Was I there? Did I make it? Did I participate? Did I matter? It’s all about me, me, me. The teacher’s ego and need for status and control obscures learner-centred design where the educator’s concern should be foremost on the learner! Yes I have an ego, and I get excited by stretching myself and taking risks – I don’t deny it. But ultimately my contribution worked, once conceived of sorts, without me. The real value was never me, it is exactly and only what was produced (and learnt in action) by those who took part that ever mattered.
My non-attendance didn’t matter, and I argue, improved the design and running of the #mugafesto activity. Even later I felt a need to interfere by liking, retweeting and commenting the tweets that were generated. I missed being there though. I wanted to feel the vibe amongst my friends and feel proud of what we had executed (pretty much totally in Twitter it has to be said using a couple of Twitter lists). As an organiser I felt guilty that I left everything up to everyone else on the day (but hey, I have done my fair share at other events!).
So, I would still like to have gone to Nottingham, and I will go to Edge Hill in December for #socmedhe2019 (unless I decide it warrants further experiment!).