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Serendipty, Social Media and the Zapruder effect

The Hub and Mulberry Suite, Open University Campus

An extraordinary end to an extraordinary week capped by what might have been lunch alone, but at The Hub the chances of a meeting with like minds is always high. (The Hub is the Open University Campus refectory; it sits, as the name suggests between various faculties behind Walton Hall).

I joined OU eCommerce Director Mark Everest and Project Manager Alex Cabon; our enthusiasm tumbled over each other like dogs playing in fresh snow.

Alex was the Student President of AIESEC a remarkable organisation that puts young minds to work, mixing their education with applied thinking (a heady combination, we call it ‘practice-based learning’ at the OU Business School.

It made me think partially of the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, but also of a consultancy service that Oxford students give to local businesses through the Careers Office there, mixed in with The School of Leaders in Poland (a Soros Foundation that Dr Zbigniew Pelzynski established soon after the collapse of Soviet communism).

Mark enthused about video over text – this should be me to camera for 90 seconds rather than 270 words.

I shared my idea for ‘WikiTVia’ in which every highfalutin wikipeadia entry becomes a video clip while Mark hankered for thousands, or was that hundreds of thousands or even a million testimonials from the OU Community i.e. everyone, ‘stakeholders’ we would all them, students, staff, alumni … he mentioned the value of the footage of the plane that landed on the Hudson River, even though it was caught on a mobile phone. Footage of rough quality with an important story or event captured is sometimes referred to as ‘Zapruder’ after the footage of the JFK Shooting … production stands count for nothing where the story is powerful.

During the Tsunami in Japan while I watched footage first on BBC News 24, then CNN and finally on NHK English my 12 year old son was watching authentic content without the commentary directly from mobile phones on YouTube. We’ve got ‘citizen journalism,’ now for ‘citizen TV.’ No longer should we be asking people to pick up their pens, rather we should be saying click record on your phone.

I’ve armed myself with a Sony Flip, yet I’ve been a broadcast cameraman in my time.

What a Sony 35mm digital camera (movie quality, can be hired for £75 a day!) cannot deliver is the content, that extraordinary story, the narratives of each person’s experience with the OU. Often I feel overwhelmed by these personal stories. Anyone can tell their story – I’ll interview you over Skype if that helps. Perhaps interviewing requires skills and patient, there are craft skills to shooting, editing and lighting a ‘film’ (which we still call them).

My role in bringing these stories to the screens of smartphones, iPads, laptops, TVs and the like occurs every time I reach for a digital recorder (sound or sound and pictures), but in the coming months will be me and a BAFTA nominated cameraman.

Have you got a story to tell?

A rare moment to stop and take stock (Greek – fish – soup) and the rest of it …

Does learning something new enter a phase of such frenzy that the formal aspect of the process is irrelevant.

To say I live, breathe and eat e-learning would be an exaggeration, but the mix of social media (my professional responsibility) and e-learning (my passion as an educator) on top of a foundation of 32 years of ‘educational inclinations’ means that I find myself in a self-constructed maelstrom of activity.

32 years ago, a 17 year old, we lived ‘above the shop,’ as it were, a training centre for a PLC in Cumbria. I listened eagerly to the Training Director and I was allowed to use first 1 inch reel to reel black and white Sony kit used for interview training … and then a hefty VHS camera. I created my first ‘training film’ – ironically titled ‘How to give a slide presentation.

A desire to taken in, and then share, what I think and understand, with others has informed my career.

Meanwhile, whilst reliving and reinventing and/or returning to my video production roots, my current interest is mobile learning – not that it is should be called ‘m-learning,’ just that it is ‘stuff’ with a learning twist, that you can have with you, connect with and use, wherever, whenever and whatever you are.

With a bit of skiing, sailing and swimming

Each in various ways as an educator, and participant: guided skiing, but never the BASI qualification, Offshore Sailing RYA qualification while instructing at RYA Level II and swimming a few weeks of effort of the most senior ASA Certification that is current (Senior Club Coach).

Everything can be taught

My turn around moment on this was a presentation I was linked to when Max Clifford, self-taught PR guru, spoke lucidly and with enthusiasm for students studying PR.

Why?

If nothing else, it showed they were passionate about the subject to study it for three years.

(Note to Max, the passionate ones might be 20% of the cohort).

And cooking?

Greek Fish Soup.

I’m yet to reach the position that I can call myself a professional academic, but is it the case the some academics (or is it just mathematicians and philosophers) are also very good cooks?.

My theory is, that they use the period of cooking, to be engaged with one activity … while thinking of something else entirely???

Developing Social Media for the Open University Business School

I joined the Open University Business School on 11th April 2011 and now live in Milton Keynes during the week a fifteen minute walk from the campus. If I take the car it is a three minute run and door to door in ten minutes. This compares rather nicely to horror commutes in my past: South Coast to Hammersmith, 2 1/2 to 3 hours each way. Drive from Chipping Norton to Bristol, 77 miles, half on Cotswold Country Roads – all weathers.

To say I am now ‘immersed’ hardly does credit to the term.

The family I am staying with have several PHD students/academics staying in two houses (side by side) and three of the family work here too.(We walk in together)

I’m at the OU Business School (Faculty of Business and School of law).

My role is ‘Social Media’ – ostensibly for external communications, but embracing to some degree internal communications and education.

Internal communications because the content/ideas and discussions generated internally feed the external content (to some degree) – certainly it informs me about what is going on.

Education because of the Masters in Open and Distance Education (MAODE) link … although a student I am embedded in the Deanery in an open plan office so people can ask questions and I can offer a point of view or indicate who, in my humble opinion, on campus might offer a more informed/expert point of view, which might come down to a paper or talk they have recently given.

A background in corporate communications using video, web and live-events brought me first to the MAODE and now to the OU, so there is a close correlation and logic to all of this.

On campus I meet regularly with people from other faculties, though I’m yet to bump into the glitterati of E-learning – a lunch-time lecture from Martin Weller that suggests that the scholarly blog is on its way should be of interest and I’ll do what I can to share that here.

There are some extraordinary developments afoot, indeed they are up and running.

I think OU Platform is about to get a blast of publicity as a Social Media Zone for future, current and alumni students to stimulate their intellectual curiosity and create discussions and groups that may last for many years.

As part of a cross-faculty group that meets each week I am linking in face-to-face with those active in developing social media like tools on the OU VLE.

I am also able to tap into latest developments with extraordinary ease, meeting people in ‘The Hub’ a central refectory on the campus that is very close to the Institute of Educational Technology.

Yesterday was ‘Learning at Work Day’ at the OU.

Internal and external suppliers presenting their skills to the 4,500 or so on the campus.

I must have spent around 20-30 minutes at each of four or five stands. Of particular interest is the rapidity of desire for VLE content and course materials on mobile devices (smartphones and tablets) … or the more ubiquitous iPhone and iPad.

Open University International Partnerships

The spread of Open University Business School Partnerships. This is indicative of the organisations, governments and students the OUBS partner with globally.

Can I destroy the idea of the ‘digital native’ without using the term? Apparently not.

The moral panic engendered by authors who talk of ‘digital natives’ disguises evolutionary progress

The likes of Prensky (Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants’) are pandering to our innate base desires, the belief or wish that there is a narrative to our existence that says it is rubbish now and can be fixed by reading their book, with its oh too neat title.

Moral panic (Cohen, 1976) … Mary Whitehouse caused many in relation to smut on TV.

There is a pressing need for theoretically informed research – the concept of ‘Digital Natives; is popularist and designed to sell a book(s) and the lecture/consultancy services of the person who coined the phrase, ‘Marc Prensky.’

So what is a ‘moral panic’, anything that gets JPF (just plain folk, a John Seely Brown expression I love) to have a rant … ideally to rant about how this prophet Prensky is right about everything and the educational world will be saved if we only listen to him (then praise him to the hilt).

There has been:

– Little critical scrutiny

– Undertheorised

– Lack of sound empirical basis

Dangerously ‘to address this proclaimed challenge, some high-profile commentators are arguing for radical changes in curriculum, pedagogy, assessment and professional in education.’

Frankly, Prensky and his lot deserve to be lampooned and satirised

Worse, they are given genuine educators working with technology a bad name. Actually, ‘we’ if I can use that term now, are on the side of teachers and lectures creating tools that are convenient, easy, transportable, and hopefully engaging, best of all permitting a large class, or cohort to have some sense of ‘student-centred’ learning through tools that enable a taste of the one-to-one tutorial.

Prensky has no answers, and befuddles it all for us, worse academics have initially picked up his thread and have been terribly slow to get the research done that quite frankly demonstrates the nonsense that has been used to sell Prensky’s books and lecture series.

Claims are put forward with limited empirical evidence ( e.g. Tapscott, 1998) or supported by anecdotes and appeals to common-sense beliefs (e.g. Prensky, 2001), who also cites Captain James T Kirk form Star Trek (sic) … as if a fictional character, or the show (rather than its author) should be the one to cite at all.

The reality is complex and diverse, not just across a nation, but probably in many classes themselves.

It’s as if Prensky and his crew are suggesting that this generation were born with a third eye or six fingers. (Actually, they are ‘The Simpson’ Generation and we need to worry that they’ll all turn yellow and chop of a finger from each hand).

Can we take seriously an academic writer who cites Star Trek? Whose references can be as basic as ‘Tim Rylance in the UK?’

He could be, and is, making it up.

And by getting into this debate we are no doubt helping him sell even more books. I bought one and am delighted that it served its purpose – unreadable, unacademic twaddle from beginning to end.

So what is a ‘moral panic’, anything that gets JPF (just plain folk, a John Seely Brown expression I love) to have a rant … ideally to rant about how this prophet Prensky is right about everything and the educational world will be saved if we only listen to him (then praise him to the hilt).

Academic writers and current research, writing in calm, objective tones (Kennedy, Conole and others) knock flat every piece of ‘hear say’ from these authors for what it is – journalistic, sensationalist nonsense.

I simply cannot believe an academic with a Harvard MA could possibly write like this, indeed I want to ask Harvard to confirm that this is the case … and if necessary disown him.

‘The researchers found that only a minority of the students (around 21%) were engaged in creating their own content and multimedia for the Web, and that a significant proportion of students had lower level skills than might be expected of digital natives.’ (Bennett 2008:02)

Kennedy’s research in Australia says it all.

Emerging technologies are NOT the lifeblood of a generation, far from it. Research amongst students in three Australian universities showed that:

  • 21% blog
  • 24% used social networking
  • 21.5% used podcasts

i.e. far from universal in this generation as the self-publicists of ‘Net Generation’, ‘Digital Natives’ or ‘Millennials’ would have us think.

Is there a theoretical or empirical basis to the arguments that are presented using the terms, Net Generation, Digital Natives or Millennials?

None whatsoever.

As Bennett said, we had a go a kids watching too much TV in the past. This is their lives and ours; it is the world as it is today. Nothing whatsoever has changed physiologically or psychologically about us humans, how we develop and grow.

  • Differences related to:
  • Socio-economic status
  • Cultural/ethnic background
  • Gender
  • Discipline specialisation
  • Internet use by teenagers is far from uniform
  • Widely varying experiences according to children’s school and home backgrounds (Lee, 2005)
  • Family dynamics
  • Level of domestic affluence

Multiskilling claims … are facts that equate to young people at this stage in their developmental processes and is the same today as it was a thousand or ten thousand years ago – ability to work in fine detail, to work on several tasks at the same time.

‘A significant proportion of young people do not have the levels of access or technology skills predicted by proponents of the digital native idea. Such generalisation about a whole generation of young people thereby focuses attention on technically adept students. With this comes the danger that those less ale will be neglected and that the potential impact of socio-economic and cultural factors will be overlooked’. (Bennett, 2008:02)

Although such claims may appeal to our common-sense perceptions of a rapidly changing world, there is no evidence that multi-tasking is a new phenomenon exclusive to digital natives’, (Bennett, 2008:02)

Just because something resonates with our personal observations doesn’t make it so. Frankly, Prensky et al should be stand-up comics – you have to laugh, at their nonsense and how gullible we are to want to believe them.

‘Generalisations about the ways in which digital natives learn also fail to recognise cognitive differences in young people of different ages and variation within age groups.’ (Bennett, 2008:02)

People change their approach according to their perceptions of the task.

  • ‘It is apparent that there is scant evidence to support this idea, and that emerging research challenges notions of a homogenous generation with technical expertise and a distinctive learning style’. (Bennett, 2008:03)
  • ‘Our analysis of the digital native literature demonstrates a clear mismatch between the confidence with which claims are made and the evidence for such claims.’
  • ‘Arguments are often couched in dramatic language, proclaim a profound change in the world, and pronounce stark generational differences’ (Bennett, 2008:03)
  • ‘Such claims with appeals to sense and recognisable anecdotes are used to declare an emergency situation, and call for urgent and fundamental change.’ (Bennett, 2008:04)

The problem is that Prensky is an easy read

Too many people prefer this than wading through dry, hard-nosed analysis of the truth. The truth? Business as usual. E-learning to education is what a whole raft of tools were to the housewife in the 1950s and 1960s … they make it easier to get the job done. They make life more convenient.

In the case of education it makes realisation, for some, the dream of more student-centred learning, possible. If there is a generational shift it ought to be that more people are gaining access to an education on their terms. We have moved from a teacher-centred model of teaching (Kember, 1997) … which only existed/exists of necessity (not everyone has ever been wealthy to give their children a personal governess then tutor) … to supporting students’ active learning, the student-centred model (Gibbs, 1995).

If there is, what do you think are the key features of this change in generations?

In the case of education it makes realisation, for some, the dream of more student-centred learning, possible. If there is a generational shift it ought to be that more people are gaining access to an education on their terms. We have moved from a teacher-centred model of teaching (Kember, 1997) … which only existed/exists of necessity (not everyone has ever been wealthy to give their children a personal governess then tutor) … to supporting students’ active learning, the student-centred model (Gibbs, 1995).

How might these changes affect education?

Did serendipity bring me to this?

‘An evaluation of students’ perceptions and engagement with e-learning components in a campus based university’. (2011) Afam Itum

How to visualise social media for communications and education – part one

A week ago I was clearing out the shed and came across a Diablo … a Bowtie-like shape. It struck me that this could be a way to represent the traditional relationship between an organisation and the public, the messages are funnelled through a spot.

I’ve done various drawings on this theme

Each stage represents the spreading of the ‘word’ at and from a variety of ‘touch points’ in an organisation, gradually increasing so that dialogue between people inside and outside an organisation have increased greatly to their mutual benefit.

Then I say this, the light from a small vase on a table.

If I could visually double this up as a mirror image then I’d be getting some sense of the dynamism that is still a vital part of communications, as inventive as always, and usually all the IT tools at its disposal to create, share and respond,

Social Media isn’t replacement anything … it is easy, convenient and of the age. It suits and comes out of the direct way we’ve learnt to communicate through email and messaging.

All I visualise are these lines of ‘activity’ spreading between an institution and its public to create something that might resemble a funnel.

The same thinking applies to education, that the realtionship used to be funnel through a teacher to a student in a classroom who belong to a cohort, or through a lecturer into a lecture hall. The opportunity to create (or the necessity to permit) a broader breadth and depth of two way communication is permitted by social media.

These lines of communication are personal, and one to one.

They are forged through links in websites, links in print and from TV, links offered up through Twitter and blogs. They are conversations that are picked up in Linkedin or Facebook.

The expression ‘old news keeps like fish’ can no longer apply … far from going off, the write message, insight or assistance is kept alive and made even more meaningful as it is shared and stored and linked to.

Competition in tertiary education is a good thing, but the playing field is both muddled and uneven.

Competition is a good thing, but the playing field is both muddled and uneven.

Remember, funding for higher education isn’t simply from the State, but through corporates and research grants. What is more the UK has a long established history of private education at all stages; many parents plan to pay for their children’s education, and where able set funds aside for tertiary education too through savings schemes.

Online support for learning, either blended or 100% at a distance, has become viable for ALL in tertiary education, so they are doing it. Even undergraduates on campus expect the kind of online facilities and support that may until recently been the sole domain of the distance learning student.

In the private sector, where I came from, creating commercial product at any stage: primary, tertiary and secondary was difficult for one simple reason – both students and institutions expected the resources to be free. One model therefore was to have content sponsored. Indeed that’s how I came to succeed in producing careers materials (video) because it was all financed in advance by sponsors and distributed for free. DVD and online based course materials failed because no one would pay for it.

Ten years ago I prepared a report for my employer regarding the production of commercial learning materials, one offs for specific age groups and subjects. My conclusion was don’t, unless it is all paid for upfront. Even the secondary sector is deeply affected by the BBC and their wonderful, free ‘bitesize’ series to support GCSEs.

There must be research on perceptions of UK universities. The cache of the long-established Oxbridge and Russell Group institutions must be substantial. From an employee point of view there are those who will divide hundreds (or thousands) of applications for a few graduate positions into two piles: Oxbridge or not.

Unsound and unfair, but if faced with ostensibly the same grade, but from different instituions, how do you differentiate short of seeing everyone for a first interview or reading exam papers for yourself?

The answer from the student’s point of view used to be the CV thick with extra-curricula activities; I wonder if the future student should pack an e-portfolio, evidence of their worth and potential once away from the student ‘desk’.

The last two decades has seen the private secondary sector buy into/ buy up primary sector ‘prep’ schools even establish pre-prep schools. I wonder to what degree this long-term relationship can be maintained into the tertiary sector?

The Eton Brand, for example, as a University, would be a valid offering in a global market.

Blog for your life … and love it.

I thought 500 page views was a landmark, then 1000. There has been steady growth to 10,000. It went crazy for a week in April with 1,000 views a day then settled back to 150-250 day. Whose counting? Basic analytics are a form of recognition, even reward for the blogger. 50,000 is a biggy that has taken 14 months to achieve. 100,000 is unlikely within the Masters in Open & Distance Education, though a MRes, another module in the MAODE (because it interests me so much) or a MBA are all of interest for later in the year and all would be blogged upon right here.

Are you saying something worthwhile to this audience?

Even if I feel the PC Screen is a mirror and I’m writing this for my benefit first as a reference I can return to later: what did I think? Where is that quote? Where was I in the learning process? Aren’t I glad I’ve moved on! Editing old entries, bringing them up-to-date develops this. As Nabokov wrote,

“I think it is all a matter of love: the more you love a memory, the stronger and stranger it is”

Read Backwards

e-Reading ‘A New Culture of Learning’ backwards in a large font isolating interesting gems I may have missed. Also reading it by search word; ‘play’ works and is appropriate with over 160 mentions.

I liken this to panning for gold.

Once I’ve done this a few times typing out notes may be irrelevant; I’ll know it. ‘Play as the new form of learning?’

One final thought. Two decades ago I liken learning to a nurturing process, of an educator/teacher or course designer/principal sprinkling water on the heads of students buried like heads of lettuce emerging from the ground.

This no longer works for me.

What I now see are kids in a large paddling pool having fun and making up games with toys offered to them by supporting parents and older siblings.

The mantra for e-learning is ‘activity, activity, activity’, perhaps it ought to be ‘play, play, play’; that’s what you’ll come away with if you read John Seely Brown and Douglas Thomas ‘A New Culture of Learning; cultivating the imagination for a world of constant change.’


Some reading if you are interested in e-learning or social media marketing

Reading this:

Picking this up a year ago at the start of the Masters in Open and Distance Education (MAODE) I couldn’t relate to it. I hadn’t enough experience of ‘e-moderators’, the term Gilly Salmon uses for Tutors (also Associate Lecturers). A year on I appreciate the complexity of the role, and potentially the considerable demand on their time and efforts to help us students sing – it can’t always happen. If we are a choir, then at times we have to learn to practice in small groups in oour own time.

‘E-tivities’ is a must read at any time. You may not agree with the five-stage approach to online learning but I’d go this route until you know better from experience; i.e. play a game that has rules and works before you make up your own.

It should be a game. It should be playful.

It can be. It often is. I don’t tinker away at the QWERTY keyboard like this if I didn’t enjoy it; as Andrew Sullivan puts it, this is jazz. These ideas the latest from John Seely Brown. Remember in his lecture to the Open University he described it as ‘Bringing Coals to Newcastle’ (Week 1 or 3, H800). That is respect for the Open University who remain the leaders worldwide. As Lord Putnam, the OU Chancellor put it, ‘It’s as if the Open University was waiting for the Internet’. From TV and Radio, with books, videos and CDs sent out computer-based and now e-learning was and is pioneered right here.

More of this then.

And I’ve made a start on this, the seminal John Seely Brown publication:

I do like a good read, something cover to cover (though these days as a e-book, it does make highlighting and note taking massively easier). And we want to share what we think about what these guys say? I put my notes in the OU e-portfolio My Stuff so could/can share pages from there. Just ask.

I can’t be bothered with this:

I read three chapters nd skimmed through the rest.

I was working in a Brighton-based web-agency in 2000. Ten years ago I would have sung from it. A decade on I find it vacuous hype that occasionally gets it right but often does not.

That said, there are books that I dismiss the first time I look, but can be brought back to sing its praises. Another must read, especially for H807 ‘Innovations in E-learning’ is Roger’s ‘Diffusion of Innovations’.

 

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