Final project, stage 1

This post summarizes my first stage on the road to my final project for ETEC 642.

Participants

As has been noted by others doing this project, one does not get a random sample by asking about social media via social media. On the other hand, for a new and specialized system of communication, some expertise is essential. I choose the term “personal learning network” (PLN) because much of my learning online goes beyond academia and my other professional interests, and hence is not simply a “professional learning network.” In my PLN are people from a wide array of cultures, professions, and viewpoints. I further selected for those who are educators or seem most intent on continued learning.

Instruments

I chose to take two paths in the survey: simple questions with a single response and longer qualitative questions. In my experience as a researcher, a nebulous question requires qualitative input to establish parameters first, followed by more specific survey instruments. Without time to develop the project in order, I included both. The qualitative answers were enlightening.

Questions:

  • Please indicate what social media tool you use most each week.
  • How often do you use social media?
  • If you use more than one type of social media, which one is most important for your personal learning?
  • Why do you think social media is important for your learning (or not)?
  • Any other comments about the idea of learning in social media?

Data collection

I posted my survey using Google Forms, and sent the link to particular friends on Facebook and Google +, and via email. I chose particular people I thought would be willing to respond, given that I do survey research and cannot burn out my network. Fifteen people responded. While the survey is ostensibly anonymous, I can tell that the participants included a particular journalist and a musician, along with a social activist and a couple of educators. Their longer responses are shared below, sufficiently anonymized for some privacy.

Results

Participants overwhelmingly prefer Facebook for their primary interaction

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They use social media frequently, almost all indicating daily or constant use

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In terms of their primary mode for learning, participants diverged greatly with 4 FB, 3 G+, one Twitter, and several responses that were not actually social media tools.

A summary of themes emerging in qualitative data:

  • Broad reach. Connects and informs across regions and cultures.
  • Open and frank dialogue- authentic sharing
  • Provides views not otherwise (locally or remotely) available
  • Immediacy of sharing- events as they happen
  • Educationally, connects broad learning communities
  • Gateway to interesting ideas that can be pursued elsewhere
  • Provides professional connections and opportunities
  • Provides a novel avenue for social awareness and protest

Discussion

The rates of usage were not surprising, with Facebook being by far the most popular social media system. In a sample this small, there can be no statistical significance, and the sample was skewed by using Facebook and Google+ as recruitment tools. Given that even my closer friends on G+ also use FB it is likely that more respondents would primarily use FB. The sample is further biased given that those who use social media more would naturally be more likely to see the request and respond, which explains why all but one participant uses social media daily or constantly.

The more interesting information is in the qualitative data, where the real motivations are revealed. Of particular interest is the immediacy of the medium, which allowed serious journalism to happen, for instance, in dire circumstances. Generally, frankness and immediacy stretching across cultures and regions seem most salient in the responses.

 

Qualitative data in the raw:

The longer qualitative answers are presented below, because several are comprehensive and highly nuanced.

Why do you think social media is important for your learning (or not)?

  • It is immediate and has a broad reach but can be customized to my own interests and connections.
  • For me, as a journalist it’s vitally important as it affords a platform of open and frank dialogue and robust debate. I’ve learnt a lot about how and what people really think. Topics such as Middle Eastern issues, political issues and other topics such as national security and foreign policy are intensive topics that are censored in the main stream media. Social media has allowed me to learn from others views in a way that they may otherwise not have shared. I have an international audience on my facebook with people from Israel, Palestine and across the Arab world, in addition to many people from across the West, Asia and the Sub Continent so for me, facebook particularly has allowed me to learn from others views on these tough topics which have helped me both academically and also in my broadcasting job. I have also used FB to find guests to interview, I’ve also used it to post my radio broadcasts. Twitter was also very important to my broadcasting role when I was living in the Middle East. I joined Twitter Feb 2009 and at the time, in Dubai the media (and still is) was very censored. A country like the UAE doesn’t afford free speech to its citizens and expatriates who make up 90 pc of the population in Dubai, about 80 pc UAE wide. Twitter allowed me to communicate honestly and frankly with my listeners when I was broadcasting live talk back radio out of Dubai from a State owned network in a way that I couldn’t do through the traditional radio broadcast. The authorities in the UAE were completely unaware of what Twitter was or how it worked so they were not monitoring it, as such it allowed me to learn from the audience what they really thought about any given topic I was talking about on air. It also afforded me the ability to share my views on Twitter with my listeners in a frank and transparent way that I couldn’t do on air. This really brought the community together, it removed the barrier that existed in a censored environment and allowed for a real sense of freedom of expression.
  • It connects people in different spaces and give a cultural conxt
  • Lateral information networks allow for more authentic sharing of ideas and information.
  • Helps keep me up to date with what is going on in the world.
  • The use of social media has the potential to expand student interest by exposure to a broad group of people interested in the same subject. Online education has removed the traditional classroom face-to-face discussions.
  • social learning, how to live and play with each other and understanding society and the role or impact that i do have on society and the planet is very important.
  • I have a friends list of people who are very intelligent, diverse and hunger for information and knowledge. When the post on their status something fascinating, I am likely to follow up via Google.
  • I get it from people u trust and value
  • Connects me with many, many professionals.
  • introduces me to new ideas and hot topics, which I might follow up with a google or Wikipedia search.
  • Used as a tool social media can be focused to expose the user to his or her specific areas of interest and find like minded people. Those like minded people can share their specific interests which I find often gives new perspectives and ideas and even whole new topics of interest.
  • I’ve never associated FB with learning, just a way to see what others are doing.
  • With music, I can listen to an interview, or a lesson with the artist who wrote the music, for more insight to interpretation.
  • Although I try to follow EdTech groups and keep up on current events via social media, I feel I learn the most from keeping around a diverse list of people with occasionally different perspectives. I get my Hawaii news, my cultural and news items of interest from Black friends, reflection from my token Libertarians, pop culture and civil rights info from my queer friends, Turkish uprising information, and even (from one college buddy) a window into the Singapore theater scene. Social media isn’t just for keeping up with people far away, or passing around meme images, or being horrified by family members’ racism or politics. I learn when I keep up with my current interests, but I am able to learn more when I keep my mind open by keeping my eyes on the larger currents.

Any other comments about the idea of learning in social media?

  • Make it fun and it (learning) will grow and expand boundaries.
  • it is a kind of community consciousness that we learn from.
  • More insight to fan interest. What types of songs elicit more response….
  • Social media gets dismissed as shallow and shoddy thinking, passed around without reflection. It’s not all like that, though. In my experience, you just have to be willing to not be too invested in convincing other people they are wrong and more in listening and considering how people got to that other point of view. I see it as a place not for deepening learning, but as a source of touchstones you must pursue on your own.
  • It also helps me 1) see what is current and 2) find my market.
  • I would want groups monitored, especially for younger students. Many groups now have trouble with “trolls” entering with intentions that differ from the group’s.
  • Love to see it!
  • Along with FB, Twitter is also vital in its role of affording true freedom of speech. The online community is given the authority to correct itself and others rather than being governed by laws around speech. It’s a testing ground at the moment for challenging authority. It’s shaping a new way of thinking both good and bad for the sustainability of humanity both online and off line. On the other hand, social media seems to have created a thinking vacuum (if such a thing exists) as a result of information overload combined with the concept of the 24 hour news cycle. Questions can be raised about whether the avalanche of information provided through social media actually encourages people to develop their cognitive processes by really thinking deeper and learning more. Does having access to endless social media prompt people to create value in information or is the overload of information devaluing information and our potential to really learn? People forget to think and social media seems to have a sinister way of somehow giving us heaps of information, lulling us into the idea that we know more but making us ignorant and lazy at the same time. It conjures up the image of seagulls just gorging on anything that seems to fall their way. Desensitising and devaluing society through too much information and not enough thinking I think is actually leading to an increase in mental health issues including depression and a load of other things. Our ability to analyse and give value and importance to what really matters is becoming vitally important as we face an ongoing and increasing bombardment of information available to us through social media.
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Week 2 reflections

I am fascinated with Rheingold’s discussion of the effects of the internet on our level of attention and insight. In Aotearoa, my more traditional Maori friends could spend all day, if they had the time and inclination, engaged in whakapapa with someone they just met: recitation of ancestry and connections of lineage. Throughout Polynesian culture, these connections were remembered and passed on via chant cycles. Unlike writing, the chant cannot go on without a chanter, though arguably, a recording can now live on, but those chants go back some 800 generations over 16,000 to 20,000 years (Kame’eleihiwa), to times when the first brave mariners set out from Southeast Asia across the vast Pacific and Indian oceans.

More happened in transmission of those chants than passing of information. By internalizing the names and stories they contain, a Polynesian chanter had a deep and complex sense of his or her place in their culture and on the planet. Ancestry.com, for whatever its merits, can never give a person the rich sense of identity that comes of knowing a complex genealogy learned “by heart,” as they say.

I use search engines like divergent trails of breadcrumbs, to turn the Hansel and Gretel metaphor around. It is more like I follow the crumbs left by others, and I may not know the destination. As Rheingold suggests, this kind of rapid access facilitates meta-level thinking, which is my preferred domain, but can lead to shallow thought, which is my fear.

I was also impressed to read someone else acknowledging that ancient cave paintings were no less a means to transmit thoughts to others across time. We do not know, however, what they meant to the artist, having no one to explain. Similarly, the spread of information at this phenomenal rate already brings to fruition Socrates’ fear that literacy without a tutor to explain meaning and morality can lead to disaster. The ability of two young Chechens to access plans for a bomb without having the moral reasoning not to use it serves as a stark example.

Kame’eleihiwa, L. (2009). Hawai‘i-nui-akea cousins: Ancestral gods and bodies of knowledge are treasures for the descendants. Te Kaharoa, 2, 42-63.

 

© Stephen Fox, 2013, contact stephen.fox.phd@gmail.com

The birds-eye lowdown on the good, the bad, and the ugly of social networks in education.

“Wait a minute. Strike that. Reverse it. Thank you” (Willy Wonka).

This first week already challenged me to examine my attitudes and beliefs about certain tools and how I use technology in my teaching. My teaching is almost entirely online these days, but I resist stepping outside of the learning systems of my universities (HPU- Blackboard & UH-Laulima) for a number of reasons. Notably, I am nervous about exposing student information and violating FERPA, but I could also relate to several issues of personal boundaries discussed this week. My thoughts for the week follow, adapted for blog.

The ugly:

The main thing that holds me back from using Facebook for teaching is that I need a life outside of teaching. I really do not want my students having access to my friends and family, and the lines blur every time privacy settings change. I have had people I blocked show up again, so I have serious doubts that barriers cannot be crossed on any platform, especially ones that regularly monitor activity for profit.

I am a psychologist, and I can assure you that 3% of your students will develop a psychotic disorder during their lives (I suspect the number may be higher among administrators), with about 1/3 of those eventually being fully schizophrenic, hopefully not while in your classroom. At any time, 12% will be depressed, etc. What disturbed me, looking up these stats, is that 5.9% will develop something called Borderline Personality Disorder, in which they glom onto people like an emotionally challenged lamprey. The film Fatal Attraction (1987) was Hollywood’s version of that. I have an ex-wife who came close.

A goodly number of my instructor friends have a story about some whackadoodle student who made their lives miserable for some amount of time, from stalker sex-offenders to extreme classroom disruptors threatening students and teachers with physical violence or extended, tangential tirades (I am not sure which is worse). If you wondered, they all have internet access, too, especially the ones where you wish they needed a background check to get online. I want to be able to go home from work and not have them follow me.

The bad:

Those points having been raised, and despite a host of reasons why not, I see the educational tide going toward widespread use of FB and other social networks, and towards massive expansion of MOOC’s (Massive Open Online Courses) as the norm for online education. “Resistance,” as The Borg would say, “is futile.” Despite Snowden’s elimination of any illusion that sweeping government surveillance is not a fact and is just a delusion of our psychotic 3%, we are mid-leap from that cliff like lemmings into the churning sea. We now know for sure that any private electronic communication with a student is an open book and, yes, you violated FERPA already somewhere. Keeping it within university firewalls at least gives us plausible deniability.

The slightly worse part is that admin is infatuated with MOOC’s, taught by superstars at MIT and Stanford and robo-graded, because admin has not yet figured out that the “Open” part means there is no resulting institutional income and they will also lose their jobs. Much as automation and outsourcing has killed manufacturing jobs, higher-ed is on borrowed time as an employment option. Well, if you want income to pay for food. I actually aspire to gear the text I am writing toward MOOC usage (feel The Dark Side pulling within you…). It is like academic Stockholm Syndrome. (Note: psychological studies say Stockholm Syndrome is not empirically supportable)

The good:

All hope is not lost. Best evidence says a really bored Disney (1958) film crew had little Inuit kids gather up lemmings during a horribly boring stint filming in the Arctic, and made up a fictional, fatal migration so they would not return with 0 interesting film moments (http://www.snopes.com/disney/films/lemmings.asp). My crap filter is stuck on high J

As Rheingold (2012) says, nothing is set in stone. Yet.

If Gutenberg perfected the printing press in 1450, even accounting for the acceleration of cultural change (see Shirov and Gordon, 2013), we are probably only shortly past Luther’s Ninety-five Theses in 1517, counting from the dawn of The Net. The equivalent revelatory power of Darwin’s (1859) Origin of species may not happen for a decade or so. What happened as a result of Gutenberg has been a phenomenal expansion of knowledge, unfortunately a lot of it about refinement of ways to kill all life on the planet (I rarely compose any music all in a major key). Amazingly, it took less than two minutes to find my desired Willy Wonka quote above, so all important knowledge is immediately available, hurray! Well, except perhaps knowledge about how to be happy and how to work toward a sustainable future as a species. Our ratings on those measures are slipping.

But expand knowledge the printing press did, and still accelerating in development we are in this age of digital publication across the globe (go grammatically correct Yoda!). If we can save ourselves and the planet, it will probably be as a result of our coming together digitally on a planetary level, because boundaries are becoming meaningless, and everywhere but Texas and the Sudan, young people are likely to find shared identity on a global level.

(Note: this new dissemination of media info is also pushing adolescent rebellion and hyper-sexuality of youth into the faces of very conservative cultures every day, which may be a little more troubling to them than “our freedoms.”)

The birds-eye lowdown:

As educators, we still have a few moments to shift the trajectory of this mammoth vessel on which we travel. A fraction of a degree difference in direction can result in a remarkably unexpected destination in only a few million miles. Considering that we in Hawaii are spinning at about 970 mph and orbiting the sun at 66,660 mph, the proverbial butterfly’s flap in education today may be the difference between heaven and a living heck for our descendants.

The assignment questions:

I will address the assignment questions individually to assure thoroughness. I think most elements are covered above, but I just got peer-reviews back on something last night, and I accept that I do not always make explanations clear and explicit to a degree where all humans understand.

  • What new technology and concepts did I learn this week?
    • I am really enjoying this, so please do not misinterpret me.
    • I immediately set up an account on Twitter, and I still loath it. I already had the other accounts and use those services
    • The concepts are not new, but they have been refined to an incredible degree in just 1 week
  • What excited me about the week’s activities? Why?
    • Most exciting is the opportunity to explore ideas I have resisted.
    • Why? I really prefer not to fossilize while I still breath, and it is getting close.
  • Which of the week’s activities helped me to understand emerging technologies better? Why?
    • Just picking the platforms to compare for the group assignment stretched my awareness and thinking nicely.
  • Which of the week’s activities was least useful to me? Why?
    • No activity was not useful.
    • I say this because they all made me think in new ways.
  • How can the week’s activities be strengthened?
    • On a very minor note, please do not force me to devalue any activity, as is required to answer the previous question affirmatively.
  • What new insights and problem solving strategies did I realize during discussions or while working with others?
    • I think this will play out over a long time, yet to come.
    • In this first week, I am more aware of problems raised regarding privacy and protection of the young.
    • This week has forced me to face the fact that I must figure out how to connect my teaching to the social tools in my daily life- the ordering of elements in that question are a direct result of this week’s discussions.
  • What would I like to learn more about? Why?
    • There are two topics about which I feel a need to learn, the first of which is about ways to use commonly accessible tools to facilitate learning amongst my students.
      • Obviously, I need to do this to keep my students engaged and to keep my course relevant to their lives.
    • The second big thing is to know clearly what the legal ramifications of using social media in my courses might be, and that is because I do not want to be sued.

A suggestion would be to have a designated place to correspond with other students at low-stakes. We have no location to just bond without penalty or reward, and hence have less chance of creating a community for social support.  This can be as simple as an unmonitored student chat room, which I normally put into my classes.

 

© Stephen Fox, 2013, contact stephen.fox.phd@gmail.com

Week 1 post- paywalls and bloggers and bears, oh my

One of the major issues with open online learning, and social media, are the questions of privacy. In chapter 6 of NET SMART, Rheingold aserts: “The danger of enclosure is greater than that of shifting cultural expression and slowing the advance of knowledge, important as those threats might be.” (p. 245)

What do you like/dislike/wonder about in terms of Rheingold’s concept of “technological enclosure”? In your own professional practice and life, when do you “enclose” and when do you “open”? Please respond in a comment here. Also, feel free to respond to others’ posts too.

Some form of enclosure is crucial to sustaining the livelihood of creators of knowledge and content. Jarrod Lanier, an early proponent of free access in the digital domain, has recently recanted the position saying that if we are becoming an information economy and all information is free, we have destroyed the economy. As a composer, I have lost a lot of my business to music libraries, which are paid services, but which have begun to pay very little to composers in order to compete with use of pirated material. Lanier is a musician in addition to being a digital visionary, and he and his friends no longer can make any significant income from music.

I personally have some music available online for listening and some music that is not available. I do not personally download except with pay, and made a point in my psych of music class last year to have students consider the impact of even small scale piracy on the artists, who should have the right to pay their rent and buy groceries. I tend also to be generous with my music when people contact me needing something for a film or website and do not have budget to pay, but I want to be asked and to maintain control.

I do sympathize with Rheingold’s point about paywalls for scholarly research, and I also face those daily. What I would like to see would be more reasonable fees, because a single article can cost $25 to $70, and this is beyond my means. I generally work through libraries to request these, which in essence means that a collective resource provides access. Sometimes, I have had to go to the HI State library to access different databases or wait for the UH library to respond, but these paid services provide a revenue stream that allows those who produced or published the knowledge to go on working. That said, peer review journals do not pay authors, and I am not sure the revenue publishers retain is equitable for their efforts in publishing and making the information available.