Last Thursday I attended a VITAE workshop on Integrating Technology for Researcher Training where I presented about ‘ A shared space for learning about YOU and your research. The main ideas and slides of that presentation can be found here.
I like this kind of small events, where people get to talk to others and share their experiences. Such events are really good for people to discuss and share ideas. Although the majority of people attending were, in one way or another, already using technology, not all of them were totally convinced about this story of going online. I like the challenge such mix of opinions and approaches generates. It makes us think from a different angle, and consider other people’s perspectives too. I liked the fact that the entire afternoon was dedicated to group discussion. The facilitator did a great job as usual. She’s so full of energy. It’s contagious!
We were asked to form groups with people who we didn’t work with or had never met before. I knew very few people at this event, which is something that I always think to be quite scary but also really good, as it ‘forces’ me to connect to people I don’t yet know.
Usually when we go to conferences and events with people you know there’s a tendency to not even look outside that group. I am not really fond of cliques and like the idea of having to challenge my initial fear to go and meet other people. It usually turns out to be quite enriching. This time it was no exception. Apart from the Manchester colleagues and Tristam Hooley, whom I only knew from twitter, the group I ended up working with all afternoon was new to me. And their opinions were diverse, which was great.
At some point we were discussing how we can support/enable/help interaction online. We obviously had different definitions of interaction in mind. I, for once, could not think of anything else, but the communication flow social media enables. The conversation, as Tristam so rightly put it. Nevertheless, some people were still holding on to the idea of Human-computer interaction (HCI), in which one can develop given skills in a mechanical way, as a response to the stimulus provided by the software. I was miles away from the Pavlovian mode of learning, but indeed this is something that many of us still see as elearning.
Especially at a Higher Education level I don’t see the point of such HCI packages. I truly believe in the power of conversation, be in face-to-face or online. The advantage of it being online is that it does not (have to) happen behind closed doors, be restricted to an hour session, nor limited to the people in the room. It is how people become intellectually attached to each other by the stories they share, and the narratives they jointly create while taking part in that collective learning experience that sells it to me. I see (spontaneous) interaction being a fundamental aspect of any learning experience, both face to face or online.
Yesterday I was reading one of the Nieman 2010 fellows experience at Harvard, and she also touches on this subject. I like her enthusiastic description of students engaging in the discussions in a bold, passionate way. That’s the romantic view I always had of University, which I never experienced as a college student, but which I get to engage with now as a lifelong learner!
I much prefer the idea of creating content relevant to my learning needs to the notion of being given access to ‘packages’ of it. I like the idea of picking and choosing; having the freedom to choose and especially the opportunity to get advice on it.
We all have access to content these days. Sometimes too much! the problem is to make sense of it all without getting overwhelmed. Hence, the need to connect and access people who not only can point us to key resources but convince us of their importance (negotiation of meaning). That’s interaction again, isn’t it?!
Although there is a new area to explore, that of managing and selecting information available online, what students (should) want is to be stimulated with activities/debates that allow them to build on established knowledge. Isn’t that what research is supposed to be and do: to advance knowledge? In my opinion, that is better achieved in a dynamic, flexible, multi-layered, interactive environment, where the individual can voice their thoughts. Their own voice, that is!
One of the things I like about interaction online, be it through twitter, blogs posts and comments, discussion fora, etc is that I not only learn about others, I end up learning also about myself as my ideas start forming at the tips of my fingers as I type them away! However, thou shalt not think it is an easy deed! In matter of fact it is a hard one, but, truth be said, it also gets easier with practice! Broadcasting our thoughts for the www to see (and react on) is hard, mainly because we fear fierce criticism. It’s a natural feeling. We are being exposed. But it shouldn’t be a bad one. What we need to work on is actually on becoming better feedback provider and educate others to do the same. It is quite an important aspect of (academic) learning, isn’t it?. We learn with different opinions, what we do not learn with is with patronising, unthoughtful comments. And that’s what we need to aim to change!
So all of this to say that in parallel conversations I had with Lisa Harris , who, by the way, I still haven’t met face to face, and also with Tristam at teh Vitae event , we all agree we should start collecting evidence regarding online interaction. We were thinking about personal testimonies of how the social web has really worked for you and added value to your research/learning journey.
It would be interesting to learn about your interactive experiences online, with all its advantages and implications. It is as important to learn about what works as it is to know what may not, or what we need to be aware of. You can post them here in the comment box, as a guest blogger, or simply link it to your blog.
Which ever way you decide to do it, we look forward to your contributions. Just get in touch! 😉
I’ll be sharing some more of mine soon too.