This post will take around 204 seconds to read.
Netskills, a UK training and support service, hosted two webinars in June:
- The rhetoric of openness – Dave White (University of Oxford) explored the influence of technology on ‘openness’ and educational institutions’ relationship to the concept
- Supporting researcher engagement with social tools – Alan Cann (University of Leicester) considered the potential of social tools for researchers
The one hour sessions were held in Elluminate, and around 80 people tuned in. They can be relived (slides and audio) from the above links, along with a chat transcript. Recordings are also available on Netskills YouTube channel. Marieke Guy (UKOLN) has written an account of the Elluminate experience, including a screenshot from Alan’s session with the obligatory talking head.
Visitor or Resident?
Dave has developed the concept of Visitors and Residents as a counterpoint to the frequently discounted Natives and Immigrants trope – see his video and Prezi for full details. Visitors see social media as tools to be used to do a job, whereas Residents “live out a portion of their identity online” and are hence more interested in cultivating a network. I find this problematic – my digital self (or selves) is not my identity, and I don’t really see private as the opposite of social. But as Marieke tweeted, you can perhaps be a Resident at work and a Visitor at home.
Perhaps more helpful is Shirky’s Observers vs Participants concept, explored further by Alan, which sees participation as the goal and a continuum from lurking to learning and engaging. I tend to think this is tempered by context, but then I am a world champion lurker. I feel engaged and that I am learning when I lurk, and it is not always easy to join an ongoing conversation.
There seems to be a number of false dichotomies being slung around:
- broadcast or conversation
- institutional or individual
- content or contact, with contact a more valuable resource than content
That said, it was acknowledged that there is no ‘right’ way to do social media – it’s personal (!) and different for everyone.
How to encourage participation
Alan is co-author of the Reearch Information Network’s Guide to social media for researchers, and his talk centred round how to get people to participate, particularly in a higher education environment more coloured by competition than collaboration.
He put up a slide with valid criticisms of social media, including technodeterminism, privacy, banality, peripherality, loss of an authoritative perspective, and work/life balance. People will however get used to the new level of informality, which gives a rounder perspective on people’s ideas and motivations – the comparison was made between a chat during a conference coffee break and the keynote address.
In terms of encouraging participation Alan’s advice was to concentrate on the benefits and solutions social media offer. It’s not about the tools but about building and curating your personal network, and training should focus on this, despite the fact that people want how tos. Looked at this way social media can actually assist with the fire hose. Overcome information overload and filter failure by using an - Ignore – Read – Park – Discard strategy!
This stress on a personal network is another one which troubles me. It is all well and good for those who are members of clearly defined tribes, but difficult if you operate in several diverse spheres, where it can be helpful to spread your social media presence (and digital identity/ies) across several applications. Closed and niche networks still have a role to play, even though they often lack critical mass.
Alan did not address issues around filter bubbles or echo chambers at length, however he did advise that it is important is to build the right network – a ’bad’ network is highly inter-connected in an endless Reply to All type cycle. The goal rather should be to create a small world network, based on diversity and trust, with key individuals connecting different tribes. The curious thing here is that many event backchannels look like a ‘bad’ network under this criterion – see for example Martin Hawksey’s #nstalks network diagrams!