The more we study social media and online networks, the more evidence we find that these spaces are replete with tensions.
In our latest published study (citation below) with my colleague Royce Kimmons, we found that expectations of professionalization in online social networks cut deeply into pre-service teachers self-concept. We found that participants generally had difficulty articulating what professionalism in online social networks actually looks like and what constitutes appropriate and inappropriate action online. As participants were exposed to a better understanding of what professionalism means online, participants recognized that they were not completely aware that their behavior might be watched and scrutinized by others, and this realization surprised them. Many pre-service teachers were also surprised at the severity of professional requirements and how the public might scrutinize seemingly innocuous behaviors on social media.
Numerous participants explained that as teachers they will need to be careful to not offend any community members, and the topics of politics and religion featured significantly in these conversations.
Though participants seemed to feel that a plurality of political opinion was a good thing and that they should have a right to political opinions, they nonetheless seemed to feel that teachers should take care in voicing those opinions.
Religion, on the other hand, seemed to be a different issue altogether, as participants seemed to feel that it was appropriate for them to express religious beliefs online even if others might happen to take offense or to disagree with them.
It’s important here to pause and consider the following: Participants’ preference of religion over politics likely reflects sociocultural values of the geographic region where the study took place (i.e. at a University in the South), and may not be generalizable.
These findings suggest that teacher education students might be willing to adjust the way that they participate in some ways to fit in with professional expectations (e.g., political opinions), but that there are some cases where what they feel might be expected of them cuts so acutely into their self-concept that they are afraid of losing their sense of identity (e.g., religious beliefs).
The implications of this study are the following:
First, teachers must consider how participating in SNS or altering their participation in them (e.g., content, connections, etc.) may impact their identity and sense of who they are.
Second, if teachers do not clearly understand how moral turpitude is defined in a given community, then how can they be sure that their behavior (online or offline) is beyond reproach?
The dilemma facing teachers in SNS is the following: As teachers present themselves in SNS in a way that is reflective of their complex and ever-developing identities, they may find it difficult to maintain meaningful social connections in online spaces as they pass through new phases of life and are simultaneously judged in an historical manner.
Kimmons, R., & Veletsianos, G. (in press). Teacher Professionalization in the Age of Social Networking Sites: Identifying Major Tensions and Dilemmas. Learning, Media, and Technology.
BCNET is a not-for-profit, shared information technology services organization focusing on British Columbia’s higher education system. The organization aims to to explore and evaluate shared IT solutions and hosts an annual conference. I delivered one of the keynote talks for this year’s conference, and shared examples and stories of online learning initiatives. I framed these examples in terms of research on online learning and the context of the historic realities of educational technology practice. These stories illustrate the multiple realities that exist in online education and highlight how emerging technologies and open practices have (a) broadened access to education, (b) reinforced privilege, and (c) re-imagined the ways that academics enact and share scholarship. I am including my slides below.
I gave a presentation at the annual Emerging Technologies for Online Learning conference last week focusing on aspects of networked participatory scholarship. I kept track of other sessions of interest here.
The concept of networked scholarship is expressed in different ways in the literature, ranging from digital scholarship to social scholarship to open scholarship. In my presentation, I discussed two themes that have arisen from my 3+ years of qualitative and ethnographic studies into the practices of higher education scholars.
Both of these themes help us make better sense of scholars’ digital participation and networked scholarship. They also help us better describe online scholarly networks and the lives and practices of digital scholars.
The first theme refers to the notion of scholars using networks to enact digital/open scholarship and circumvent restrictions to the sharing of knowledge. I have a recent publication on this that you can read here.
The second theme is one that I am still developing. Specifically, in my research I found that social media and online social networks function as places where some academics express and experience care. While debates about the use of digital scholarship and social media use in education have so far largely focused on the professional experiences of scholars, with frequent suggestions to limit personal sharing, professional and personal identity are difficult to separate, and academics frequently collapse the boundaries between personal and professional sharing. Academics demonstrate vulnerability and express care online in many forms. In my presentation, I showed and discussed examples of what these very personal and intimate instances of sharing look like. A version of my slides appear below:
Below are my notes from the AERA 2014 session Rigor and Realism: Doing Educational Science in the Real World. The ideas are significant for learning technologies researchers focused on impacting practice and developing real-world innovations/interventions. While I share many of these values and discussed a number of them in past work (e.g, here and here), what appears below are Catherine Snow’s ideas.
Rigor and Realism: Doing Educational Science in the Real World
The Wallace Foundation Distinguished Lecture: Catherine Snow, Henry Lee Shattuck Professor of Education, Harvard University
Some educational researchers are adopting new models for doing educational research, models that start from problems of practice, prioritize the challenge of utility to educators, and presuppose partnership relationships between researchers and practitioners. In attempting to implement such approaches, we often find that attention to the conditions of real-world practice may compete with attention to the constraints of rigorous design. That familiar problem can be exacerbated by the conflicting epistemologies of real-world decision-making vs. rigorous scientific knowledge-building. This conflict, in its multiple forms only some of which will be discussed, is a dilemma rather than a problem; it demands careful consideration of approaches to balancing the desirable features of rigor and of realism when they conflict.
Notes from the presentation and twitter feed
A conflict exists between rigorous research and the demands of educational systems. Educators and researcher must work together as partners.
Researchers have to acknowledge the realities of practice.
Researchers should start with urgent problems of practice – not simply gaps that exist in the literature
Education research/science can be highly rigorous, but it needs to be relevant. If it’s not impacting students in schools, it doesn’t matter. Focus of ed research is often quality, but we have to make the case for utility. It should be about utility and relevance.
Education research should move from questions of “whether” to questions of “how” ( GV side note: especially relevant to learning technologies, as noted by past research – e.g., don’t ask whether online learning works, but ask how does it work, how do we make it better, under what conditions, for whom, etc).
Recruiting the next generation of scholars into this work may endanger their potential to publish and get grants
We need to modify practitioner preparation to provide guidance about the challenges of collaboration with researchers (e.g., teach value/limitations of research)
Numerous colleagues are invested in this model (e.g., WT Grant, iterative design work, design-based implementation)
Progress is slow. Are there really exciting initiatives that would make a huge difference that might change both edu research and practice?
- Build the partnership model into the preparation of doctoral students by institutionalizing and acknowledging relationships and acknowledging relationships. Schools of education need to embrace this approach and faculty members need to be supported even if it doesn’t have immediate payoff in journal articles. A way for schools of education to become relevant and keeping us from the constant danger of becoming second rate departments of Arts and Sciences rather than 1st grade institutions of social change
- Promote accountability by developing reliable and feasible measures of classroom practice that might eventually take the place of student outcome measures
- Take the wisdom of practice seriously and develop a mechanism for systematizing and curating it. Journal review process is elegant and effective in maintaining standards for a certain kind of knowledge, but why do we dismiss anecdotes that teachers tell us? Because there is no epistemological structure for evaluating and curating that knowledge. What does that structure look like? Even though practitioners generate knowledge, it disappears. Developing a mechanism to capture and curate knowledge would be a hugely powerful mechanism. We acknowledge wisdom of practice but don’t take it seriously. We need to raise the level of the wisdom of practice to a more respectable level, by making it indeed more respectable. Urgent agenda because of internet sharing of uncurated practices. There currently isn’t a way to curate teacher knowledge ( GV side note: Curation of internet resources is prevalent, and a number of individuals are arguing for a system of publish then filter – lots of connections to openness, digital participation, and digital/media literacies re: curation)
As a field we need an exciting agenda of research that is cumulative, rigorous and realistic
I recently wrote a paper which examined the activities and practices arise when researchers and educators use social media and online networks. This is part of my ongoing work to understand open scholarship, networked participatory scholarship, and scholars’ practices online. In this paper, I used ethnographic data and my own experiences to try to make sense of scholars’ online participation. Some of the interesting findings are the following:
- numerous scholarly practices are occurring in the open (e.g., sharing drafts of manuscripts, sharing syllabi, supporting doctoral students)
- participation in online social networks is not limited professional endeavors; For example, they share “their vulnerabilities and struggles (e.g, with a divorce) and [seek] help with personal issues and causes that they are passionate about (e.g., equal rights legislation).” Importantly, engagement with and and sharing about issues unrelated to the profession is a value that is celebrated by this community. It is not uncommon, for example, to encounter blog entries discussing the positive outcomes of social sharing and Twitter profiles proudly declaring that updates are composed of a mix of personal and professional tweets.
- scholars have appropriated social technologies and utilized peer-to-peer networks to access and share research papers that they do not have access to (e.g., PirateUniversity.org, ThePaperBay.com, the Scholar subreddit, the #ICanHazPdf hashtag)
The last point is particularly significant. In the paper, I argue that the use of social networks and peer-networks to share knowledge that is often behind journal paywalls suggests that individuals are willing and able to circumvent and defy restrictions to the sharing of knowledge and research. In fact, open scholarship is a value that is close to the hearts and minds of numerous scholars who use the Internet for professional purposes. Kroll (2011) described the sharing of copyrighted manuscripts as “an act civil disobedience toward the scientific publishing enterprise” and since I published this paper, Elsevier has started taking action against this activity by sending takedown notices to academia.edu. How does one respond to actions that are in direct conflict to strongly-held values and ideals? That is a question that every academic needs to consider.
A copy of the paper, along with its citation and abstract appear below:
Veletsianos, G. (2013). Open Practices and Identity: Evidence from Researchers and Educators’ Social Media Participation. British Journal of Educational Technology, 44(3), 639-651.
The ways that emerging technologies and social media are used and experienced by researchers and educators are poorly understood and inadequately researched. The goal of this study is to examine the online practices of individual scholars in order to explore and understand the activities and practices that they enact when they use social media for scholarship. Using ethnographic data collection methods and basic interpretive analysis techniques, I describe two emergent phenomena evident in scholars’ social
media participation: scholarly practices enacted openly in digital spaces and the self that is disentangled from academic matters. These phenomena raise issues related to “sharing,” scholar identity, participation and social media as a place of gathering.
Note: As with any qualitative and ethnographic work, the results should be seen in context and shouldn’t be generalized to “all scholars participating online do X.”
I was at the Educause Learning Initiative conference last week (#ELI2014), where I had some interesting conversations and discussions around online learning, MOOCs, research methods, and the future of higher education.
Amy Collier and I presented early results from our qualitative studies looking at learners’ MOOC experiences (if you have not yet responded to our call to share your lived experiences with us, please consider this invitation). Our talk was entitled “Messy Realities: Investigating Learners’ Experiences in MOOCs.” Our thinking is guided by the notion that even though surveys and big data yield insights into general behavioral patterns, these methods are detached and can distance us rather than help us understand the human condition. As a result, the phenomenon of “learning in a MOOC” is understudied and undiscovered. During the session, we shared what we have been finding in our studies, highlighting the messiness of learning and teaching in the open.
Karen Vignare and Amy Collier were also very kind to extend an invitation to a number of us to share our work with individuals participating in the leadership seminar they organized. It was fantastic to hear Katie Vale (Harvard), Matt Meyer (The Pennsylvania State University), Rebecca Petersen (edX, MIT), and D. Christopher Brooks (EDUCAUSE) discuss their work, and once again, I felt grateful that we are having these conversations more openly, more frequently, and with greater intent.
Below are my rough notes from my 5-7 minute presentation. I appreciate parsimony (who doesn’t?), and in the words of D. Christopher Brooks, this is the litany of things I think:
I am a designer and researcher of education and learning. I study emerging technologies and emerging learning environments. I’m also a faculty member , and I have been teaching in higher education settings both face-to-face and online since 2005.
To contextualize my comments on MOOCs, first I want to describe my experiences with them:
- I have facilitated one week of the #change11 MOOC was organized by George Siemens and Stephen Downes in 2011. This MOOC had a distinctively connectivist flavor with each week being facilitated by 1 person.
- I have enrolled in a number of MOOCs, and have even completed a small number of them.
- I have repurposed MOOCs in my own courses. For example, I have asked students to enroll in MOOCs and write about them.
- I have published an e-book with my students, sharing stories of student experiences with MOOCs.
- Finally, I am actively involved in studying learners’ experiences in MOOCs in order to understand the human element in these emerging learning environments.
I have recently come to the realization that I have an ambivalent relationship with MOOCs. My relationship with MOOCs is one of the most ambivalent relationships I have had with anyone or anything. This relationship is more ambivalent than the love-ignore-hate relationship that my cat has with me!
On the one hand, I appreciate the opportunities for open learning that MOOCs provide. I also appreciate how MOOCs have brought us together to discuss issues around technology, teaching, and learning. At the same time, I cringe at the narratives around big data, I cringe at the hype, at the ignorance around what education is and should be about.
I want to talk about two topics today: MOOC research and the MOOC phenomenon.
On MOOC Research
- We don’t know much about MOOCs
- The things that we know about MOOCs are mostly the result of surveys, learning analytics, and big data research
- The existing research and the existing methods that we use are informative, BUT they simply paint an incomplete picture of MOOCs. We should be asking more in-depth questions about learner and instructor experiences in MOOCs
- Qualitative and interpretive research methods can and will help us better understand MOOCs, open learning, and open scholarship
- Descriptions of learner behaviors are helpful, but these descriptions only provide a glimpse and superficial summary of what students experience and what they do in digital learning environments. To give you an example, emerging research suggests that students may be “sampling” courses; a behavior that we don’t frequently see in traditional online courses or traditional face-to-face courses. Nonetheless, “sampling” is not how participants would describe their experiences or the ways they participate MOOCs. To illustrate, consider family-style Mediterranean meals that consist of numerous dishes, where participants sample a wide array of food. If you ask a person to describe this meal, to explain it to someone else, or to simply tell you about the meal, they will likely describe the meal as a feast, they might describe the tahini as lemony, the variety of flavors as intriguing, the whole meal as satisfying. Different people will also describe the meal differently: Tourists might describe the meal as fulfilling, heavy, or even extravagant; locals might describe the same meal as appropriate, or better than or worst than meals that they have had at other restaurants. “Sampling” may be an appropriate descriptor of the act of eating a family-style meal, or exploring a MOOC, but the descriptor does not fully capture the experience of sampling.
On the MOOC as a Phenomenon
MOOCs. The acronym stands for massive, open, online courses. That is not what MOOCs are though. MOOCs are a phenomenon. They represent something larger than a course and should be seen in conjunction to the rebirth and revival of educational technology. They represent symptoms, responses, and failures facing Higher Education. For instance, MOOCs are a response to the increasing costs of Higher Education; represent the belief that the purpose of education is to prepare students for the workforce; represent the belief that technology is the solution to the problems that education is facing; are indicative of scholarly failures; seem to represent the belief that education is a product that can be packaged, automated, and delivered; and, are a response to failures by researchers, designers, administrators, and institutions to develop effective and inspiring solutions to the problems of education (alternatively, they might also represent the failure of existing systems to support creative individuals in enacting change)*.
The MOOC is an acronym that elicits strong feelings: excitement, fear, defiance, uncertainty, hope, contempt…. To address these feelings we have to address the failures of higher education and the underlying causes that have given rise to MOOCs. For this reason, instead of talking about MOOCs at my own institution, I discuss innovations and approaches that I value, including networked scholarship, openness, flexibility, social learning, and the design and development of new technologies.
* NOTE: Rolin Moe and I are working on a paper refining and delineating these. If you have thoughts, concerns, or input on any of these issues, we’d love to hear form you!
We have a new paper available that continues our research on networked participation/learning and networked participatory scholarship. This one arises out of Royce Kimmons’ dissertation, which I had the joy, honor, and good fortune of chairing.
The media is filled with stories pertaining to educators’ and researchers’ participation in online social networks. For example, a debate erupted in Kansas in December 2013 regarding faculty members’ use of social media and teachers have found themselves in trouble for their social media updates. Yet, little research has been done to understand the relationship between educator identity and participation in Social Networking Sites (SNS) or to examine the implications that institutional regulation of such media may have upon educator identity.
In our latest research study, we developed a framework to understand how a group of teacher education students viewed their developing identities within social networking sites as they began the life transition to becoming educators. We found that educator identity consists of a constellation of interconnected acceptable identity fragments (AIF)*. These acceptable identity fragments are intentional, authentic, transitional, necessarily incomplete, and socially-constructed and socially-responsive.
We arrived at the term “acceptable identity fragment,” because study participants:
- shaped their participation in social networking sites in a manner that they believed to be “acceptable” to their audiences,
- viewed this participation to be a direct expression of “identity” or their sense of self, and
- felt this expression to only represent a small “fragment” of their complete identities.
The AIF suggests that participants in a given social context may limit their participation or expression of identity in a way that is appropriate to that specific context or is acceptable to the specific relationships they have with others in that context. The existence of the AIF means that educator identities within SNS are contextual and intentionally limited and structured. Participants believe that, when participating in SNS, they are expressing their identities in a limited, though authentic, manner. In their view, such expression represents a genuine fragment of their identities.
This view of educator identity contrasts sharply with previous views of identity by highlighting the complicated, negotiated, and recursive relationship that exists between educator participation in SNS and educator identity.
First, existing literature assumes that individuals have an authentic identity and suggests that they attempt to express these identities in varying degrees via social media. Our research finds that human beings may not ever find themselves in social contexts wherein they will choose to (or are even able to) express their full authentic identities and, instead, express a different AIF depending upon the situation.
Second, in Goffman’s view (1959), identity is adaptable and constantly emergent as we “act” in contexts. In the AIF view, there is no “acting” occurring, but rather we see a guarded revelation of fragments of the self. Thus, identity was not an emergent phenomenon of the scene; it was controlled and revealed partially.
Finally, Turkle (1995) suggests that the online self lacks coherence and is fluid. However, participants in our study were operating from what they believed to be a coherent sense of self and judged their SNS participation based upon alignment with that sense. Participation did not lack coherence – it was merely a partial manifestation.
What does this mean for educators, educational administrators, and educational researchers?
First, if the AIF is intentional and authentic, then it seems important for educators to retain control of their SNS participation. If institutions seek to prescribe appropriate and inappropriate uses of the medium, then it seems that this will prevent educators from being able to make meaningful choices regarding authentic self-expression and self-representation
Second, if the AIF is transitional, social media technologies must accommodate individuals’ transition into new life phases. At present, social media spaces do not support this (e.g., Facebook’s Timeline and the difficulty of deleting participation history en masse). If technologies doe not support the transition into new life phases, they risk being abandoned.
Third, educators should seek to recognize the assumptions that SNS platform developers are making about human nature, meaningful social participation, relationships, and so forth and consider the impact that such assumptions may have on their participation and identity.
Fourth, judgments made about educators based upon their participation in SNS should consider life transitions, time-based contexts (e.g., behavior as a college freshman vs. behavior as a student teacher), and the embedded values of the media.
Finally, if the AIF is a necessarily incomplete component of a larger identity constellation, any judgments of educators based on SNS participation must recognize that the relationship of the AIF to overall identity is subject to interpretation and may not reflect an individual’s perception of how the AIF represents authentic identity. Fragmentation of identity, then, should be seen as a valuable response to complex social situations. SNS platforms should account for this, and as we make judgments about others based upon their fragmented identities, we should be cognizant of the complex relationship existing between the AIF and one’s larger identity and dispel the myth of a simple authentic vs. inauthentic binary.
You can download a pre-print copy of the study from the link below:
Kimmons, R., & Veletsianos, G. (2014). The Fragmented Educator 2.0: Social Networking Sites. Acceptable Identity Fragments, and the Identity Constellation. Computers & Education, 72, 292-301. Journal link.
* The usual grounded theory and interpretive research caveats apply.
Are you interested in a post-doctoral fellowship in any of the following topics?
- open online learning
- emerging forms of online participation
- digital and open scholarship
- online social networks
- learner, instructor, and scholar experiences in any of the above
If so, I would love to see an application from you to our call for Banting post-doctoral fellows! The call is open to Canadians and non-Canadians alike.
On the call listed above, you will see that we are seeking applicants for multiple positions. The section relevant to my interests is the following:
Working with Dr. George Veletsianos, Canada Research Chair (CRC) in Innovative Learning and Technology, the post-doc will focus on emerging technologies and innovations in online education, and in particular open education, open/digital scholarship, and social media/networks. The experiences and practices of learners, instructors, and scholars with emerging forms of online participation (e.g., MOOCs, social media) are ill-understood and ill-researched. The objective of a Banting post-doc within this research program will be to make sense of participants’ experiences and practices with open online education and social media/networks in higher education and to understand why individuals use these emerging innovations in the ways that they do. Research questions may include, but are not limited to: What is the nature of open online learning, teaching, and participation? What does the experience of open online learning/teaching and/or social network learning consist of? What is the lived experience of open scholars? How is technology changing scholarship? How do scholars perceive and construct their identity using social media/networks? How do individuals use social media/networks to cope with the expectations of their academic roles (e.g., being a doctoral student, being a newly-hired faculty member, etc)?