Thursday, July 13, 2023

Wave goodbye to the edtech cruisers and focus on real community building

Photo by Peter Hansen on Unsplash

One year after retirement and it's a strange feeling standing on the quay watching the edtech ship sail away from me and onwards towards the horizon. I've tried to maintain contact with the issues I used to find so important but if you're not onboard and involved it all feels more remote every day until the ship disappears over the horizon. There are new technologies and platforms on board now and my personal learning environment has become almost obsolete.I thrived on the social media boom of blogs, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Diigo and so on and the opportunities these fascinating channels offered for networking, collaboration, sharing and creativity. It was a great ride for about 12 years but it has all turned sour as the platforms have become polluted with algorithm-driven ads, propaganda and toxicity. Having spent so long urging teachers to use social media to widen their horizons, increase their impact and foster collaboration I realised that I might now be leading them into a trap. So now the edtech cruiser is sailing away loaded with new technologies and platforms that I simply can't relate to anymore. But maybe we have to reset our ambitions about networking and settle for less flashy but more sustainable solutions.

A post by Inger Mewburn in her excellent blog The thesis whispererThe enshittification of academic social media, really rang a lot of bells for me. She has also been a strong advocate of academics using social media to promote their work and build networks. But now she advises caution with using social media on the grounds that no matter how good the content you share may be you will not get exposure thanks to algorithms that prioritise content that will generate income. It's also hard to make contact with others when the algorithms continually push other stuff in front of you.

Maybe Threads is the next big platform and indeed the initial uptake is spectacular, though here in the EU it is blocked since it is full of major privacy issues that violate the GDPR regulations (well played EU!). But even if you can use Threads it's probably not a good idea. It looks good but it feeds off your privacy and is fully integrated with the rest of Meta's platforms.

Inger proposes a revised set of recommendations to academics wanting to use social media in their work. Think very carefully before you use mainstream social media in your teaching. Think especially about the privacy issues to which you may be exposing students and colleagues. Use these channels for social contacts if you want but don't share content there; own your content by having your own space for it. For building a network she suggests the good old-fashioned mailing lists. I certainly found e-mail newsletters a good way to reach out though there are issues with that, especially the problem that many organisations ' firewalls automatically block newsletters as suspected spam. But certainly you can reach out to known subscribers and build your community through that.

Email is still the best distribution medium of them all: cost free and free from algorithms. I just started a mailing list for people interested in my neurodiversity in the PhD research – I already have 160 or so people signed up, which is so incredible (thank you!). I plan to use this list to test out research ideas and get feedback on research in progress. Much more effective than shouting into the wind on Threads or something.

She also mentions a possible revival of blogging, something I would of course welcome. Use your blog as a space to share your ideas and offer advice. The best way to blog is to host the blog yourself and be in complete control. I made the mistake of opting for the convenience of Google's Blogger platform back in the days when I believed they were working for the common good and so all my writing is in their domain. 

Of course Mastodon and its family of open source social media in the Fediverse is the sustainable and uncommercial option to create communities, though it's always a good idea to check each platform first to see if it's right for you (don't assume that all are automatically trustworthy). If I was still active that's where I'd go. The Fediverse will not go mainstream and will remain a refuge for those who see through the glitter and flashy facade of the Big Five, but maybe we have to accept that meaningful collaboration is limited in scale. Leave the big platforms and connect with people rather than bots and trolls. It may not be as flashy and may not have all the bells and whistles but it works.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting post. Most of our lives exist in a commercial space and products are not what they used to be (both physical and digital). Everything is about capturing data and this most often involves privacy issues, whether hidden or obvious. Someone needs to hit the reset button on these.