In my last post I concluded that maybe the problems we have in convincing people about the benefits of net-based education lie in our vocabulary. As long as we use words like technology, IT, technical or computer many people will simply think, "I'm not interested in all that technical stuff, it's not my business." We really want to discuss the way we teach, learn, communicate and collaborate but as soon as the dreaded t-word is mentioned you get referred to the IT department. When we start taking the net for granted we can maybe escape from the need to see it all as something technical. There's plenty technology in there of course but we don't need to know about it to use it.
I had a project several years ago about how to organise the university's support for net-based education. We tried to avoid the tech trap by using the term flexible learning. We spent a lot of time and effort writing a good definition of what this meant and creating nice diagrams but all too often we were met with confused expressions and questions like "you mean IT don't you?" Every time we mentioned flexible learning we were forced to define what we meant.
Even the IT people get stuck. For many people IT means simply cables, computers, servers and security, whereas today it is the basis for virtually all activities in the organisation. When you broaden the scope of the IT department to cover, say, media production or pedagogical support you really need a new label for the operation. The trouble is finding the right word for it and selling the new concept successfully.
My final example on this front is social media. It's an over-used term at present but it's better than web 2.0 which verged too far into techspeak. For me social media is a gigantic field covering all types of net-based communication, sharing and collaboration. However I feel that most people see the term as virtually synonymous with Facebook and discussions often centre around the perceived dangers of social networking and whether it has any relevance for education. There's so much to discuss but since everyone knows Facebook (and has strong opinions about it) it's very hard to get past that discussion and move on to more relevant discussion. If only we could find a term that encompasses the whole concept and is easy for people to grasp. It'll come, but it takes time to evolve.