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Critical Perspectives on ‘Openness’ in Higher Education

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Twitter has been celebrated as a tool for professional learning. However many of the assertions about the benefits of Twitter for professional learning have been anecdotal proclamations rather than research-evidenced claims.

This presentation draws on findings from my EdD research, which explored how higher education professionals use Twitter for learning. A case study approach enabled in-depth exploration of how and why Twitter was used by professionals for learning about teaching-related practices. The research found that participants used Twitter in different ways: some peripherally participated on Twitter, while others participated at the centre of online-networked spaces.

These findings contradict commonly held views that open online spaces, such as Twitter, are inherently social. The research established that capacity to participate, feelings of confidence and vulnerability, and finding a sense of belonging online were contributing factors to participation or non-participation in such spaces.

These findings highlight the complexity of participating in online social spaces for learning. Thus, there are implications for those who advocate online social networks for learning. Critical thought and further discussion coupled with suitable supports are required if open online spaces are to be advocated and encouraged for learning in higher education contexts.

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Critical Perspectives on ‘Openness’ in Higher Education

  1. 1. Exploring higher education professionals’ use of Twitter for learning: issues of participation. Dr. Muireann O’Keeffe Critical Perspectives on ‘Openness’ in Higher Education SRHE: The Digital University Image created in Wordle.net from my EdD my thesis.
  2. 2. Academic Developer DCU EdD graduate IOE UCL @muireannOK Image: CC BY-NC Muireann O’Keeffe,
  3. 3. Motivation and idea I advocated Twitter as a learning tool with HE staff I have responsibility to lead by example, demonstrate critical awareness of technology I engage with (Selwyn & Facer, 2013) Exploration of Twitter for informal professional learning (Gerstein, 2011; Holmes et al., 2013; Lupton, 2014) Image from www.freepik.com/free-photos-vectors/hand. Designed by Freepi. Free license with attribution
  4. 4. Rhetoric V Research Top Tool for Learning Collaboration & learning Supports sharing of practice Builds connections Keep up-to- date
  5. 5. Research questions 1. What are the activities of HE professionals using the social networking (SNS) site Twitter? 2. How are activities on Twitter supporting the learning of these HE professionals? 3. What are the barriers and enablers experienced by these HE professionals in engaging with Twitter for professional learning?
  6. 6. Case study approach • Exploratory research • Holistic view of situation • Conclusions can be questions for further research (Buchanan, 2012; Denscombe, 2010; Yin, 2014) • Participants: 7 HE professionals • Lecturers, learning technologists, academic developers • Cross-case analysis Image from https://www.pexels.com/photo/people-coffee-meeting-team-7096/ CC0
  7. 7. Data Collection & Analysis • Twitter – Data Harvest • TAGS explorer (Hawksey, 2014) • Follow-up interviews • Semi-structured • Thematic analysis (Braun & Clarke, 2006) • Data analysis revealed enablers and barriers for professionals in using Twitter for learning.
  8. 8. An approach to social learning: (Wenger, 1998) CoP model community practice meaning identity
  9. 9. An approach to social learning: (Wenger, 1998) CoP dimensions: mutual engagement joint enterprise shared repertoire
  10. 10. Factors for informal learning Eraut (2004)
  11. 11. Informal online professional learning • Networked learning, connected learning, connectivism • Common assumptions: learning is self-determined, participatory, authentic and relevant to needs • (Garrison & Anderson, 2003; Hayes & Gee, 2005; Ito, et al., 2013; Siemens, 2006). • Online as a space/place (White & Le Cornu, 2011; Gee, 2005) Visitors and Residents typology: Wenger’s modes of participation • Visitors : peripheral /non-participation • Residents : participation
  12. 12. Framework Factors necessary to participate Participation contributes to: Confidence & Commitment Support & Feedback Challenge & Value of work Identity of non- participation Learning on the peripheries Presence Reification Identity Belonging Learning Non-participation: Figure: Muireann O'Keeffe EdD thesis http://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/1521971/
  13. 13. Visitor - Resident continuum (White & Le Cornu, 2011)
  14. 14. Findings: Activities (RQ1) Visitors • Information gathering • Absence of social presence Residents • Social presence • Connecting and interacting w/ other professionals
  15. 15. Findings (RQ 2) • RQ2 – How activities on Twitter influenced practice: • New ideas, toolkit (Louise) • Challenged thinking (Louise, Carol) • Initiated collaborations (Ben, Maurice) • New teaching approaches: peer review, Peerwise, lab teaching (Ben, Maurice, Louise)
  16. 16. Findings (RQ 3) Visitors Barriers Residents Enablers
  17. 17. Visitors I don’t have the bravery (confidence) I’m not ready I’m not confident about it being massively open I’m hyper sensitive of people judging my comments I would agonise over tweets for too long Colleagues who know a lot more Because people I subscribe to are kind of fairly high up
  18. 18. Visitor participants – inhibiting factors Capacity to participate (Visitors) Lack of Confidence More knowledgeable others Not ready Unknown audiences Caution Vulnerability
  19. 19. Residents There is a tendency for group think It’s all about having the correct etiquette and just being a nice personI think confidence is a huge issue It’s a subject I feel very confident in You have the freedom to say ‘actually this is what I believe’ and maybe I don’t know ‘I’m happy to be proved wrong I suppose people would be perhaps cautious that they may say something silly, misrepresent the institution, misrepresent themselves
  20. 20. Resident participants – enabling factors Capacity to participate (Residents) Professional confidence Playfulness Time Information management Capacity to debate Etiquette
  21. 21. Residents on Twitter
  22. 22. Key themes Capacity to participate socially on Twitter Confidence Vulnerability Belonging
  23. 23. Overall…. All participants demonstrated different ways of being social online Differnet modes of participation underpinned by various reasons Non-participation an opportunity for learning: “being silent is still a social practice” (Wenger, 1998, p. 57) Is Twitter an inherently social space?
  24. 24. Shortcoming of peripheral participation • Denise, Paul, Carol: strong reluctance to increased participation • Learning to participate in communities is perceived to be important in establishing voice: “the purpose is not to learn from talk as a substitute for legitimate peripheral participation; it is to learn to talk as a key to legitimate peripheral participation” (Lave & Wenger, 1991, pp. 108-9). • Louise: peripheral participation helped establish voice on Twitter, showing changing modes of participation paralleled with an identity trajectory.
  25. 25. Belonging in open online spaces • Online spaces for learners endorsed as affinity spaces (boyd, 2011; Hayes & Gee, 2010; Ito, et al., 2013; Stewart, 2014) • Others warn against simplified and unchallenged findings that extol the virtues of learning in online spaces (Selwyn & Facer, 2013) • Paul ( Visitor): others more knowledgeable • Knowledge and status hierarchy • Hughes’ (2010): affinity through knowledge-related identity was fundamental to learning
  26. 26. Belonging • Paul equal to other educators in formal face-to-face contexts • Denise: comfortable in engaging in face-to-face discussion • Did other factors marginalise their participation online and prevent finding affinity with others • Resident participants, Maurice and Ben, were both male and had secured permanent “participating online feels different if you are a woman” (Neary & Beetham, 2015, p. 98) “These platforms were designed with specific people in mind, and those people were rarely people of color, minorities, women, or marginalized folks” (Singh, 2015)
  27. 27. Barriers inhibited capacity to participate Visitors: marginal position “creating an identity of non- participation that progressively marginalised them” (Wenger, 1998, p. 203).
  28. 28. Stumbling & experimenting • Importance of legitimacy in peripheral participation “inevitable stumblings and violations become opportunities for learning rather than cause dismissal, neglect or exclusion” (Wenger, p101). • Understanding and benefiting from Twitter: experiment and use Twitter (McPherson, Budge, & Lemon, 2015; McCluskey & Readman, 2014).
  29. 29. Vulnerability / care • Denise’s concerns: exposure & vulnerability • Singh (2015) urges educators be sensitive about openness as for some it can signify harm • “These do not feel like safe spaces when you are developing your identity, your subject specialism, and your voice….” (Beetham, 2016, blog) • Stewart’s (2016) research, in contrast, highlights how those who engage peripherally on Twitter, without participation in networks, might not benefit from networks of care
  30. 30. Affective barriers • Participants had an emotional response to Twitter • Trust: important in CoP’s – Wenger (1998) • Vulnerability in online spaces, unknown audiences (boyd, 2014) • Confidence “Much learning at work occurs through doing things and being proactive in seeking learning opportunities, and this requires confidence” (Eraut 2004)
  31. 31. Twitter: an identity opportunity? • Turkle (1997) online as an identity opportunity • Wenger (1998): identity as an educational resource • Wesch (2008): online enables development of self- awareness • Twitter/SNS: rich development opportunity development opportunity stimulating reflection on the self and one’s position in societal, cultural, institutional and global contexts. • Placing SNS into prof dev opportunities can support identity and digital identity work
  32. 32. Contributions • Professionals use SNS in varied ways, not all positively disposed to participation • SNS provide opportunities but create complex effects • Support needed: more than technical, digital identity development (confidence & identity) • Multiple issues identified need critical thought and further discussion among academic developers and those supporting education in digital era
  33. 33. Duty of Care? Risk-taking, vulnerability of open online Care: As educators how are we protecting people from that gap? (Stewart, 2016) Image from https://pixabay.com/en/railway-platform-mind-gap-1758208/ CC0
  34. 34. Questions for practice • Critical discussion is required to discover what it means to work in the digital age in education (Beetham, 2015) • As can be seen from the data the virtual world presents particular emotional challenges (Neary & Beetham, 2015) and is a messy experience (Budge, Lemon, & McPherson, 2016). • Should academic developers model online social networking practices and behaviours? If so what do these practices and behaviours look like? • More broadly, how do we create safe places for networked forms of learning and how can we best support this? • Should support be framed by policies, by guidelines, by procedures, or by developing critical thinking regarding SNS and Twitter? • Digital identity is important, but it is formed in conjunction with the practices and responsibilities of HE professionals. How can academic developers help support professional identity and thus support digital identity? • If digital identity is increasingly part of ‘Identity’, how do we support both?
  35. 35. Thank you! Feedback & questions… Muireann O’Keeffe @muireannOK openuplearning.wordpress.com/ http://www.slideshare.net/muir31 Image: permission from Catherine Cro
  36. 36. References • Beetham,H. (2016) Ed Tech and the circus of unreason. https://helenbeetham.com/2016/11/14/ed-tech-and-the- circus-of-unreason/ 14 Nov 2016. • Braun, V. and Clarke, V. (2006) Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 3 (2). pp. 77-101. Available from: http://eprints.uwe.ac.uk/11735 • boyd, d. (2011). Social network sites as networked publics: Affordances, dynamics,,and implications. In Z. Papcharissi, A networked self (pp. 39-58). New York: Routledge. • boyd, d. (2014). It’s complicated: the social lives of networked teens. Retrieved 2015, from danah boyd: http://www.danah.org/books/ItsComplicated.pdf • Buchanan, D. (2012). Case studies in organisational research. In G. Symon, & C. • Crump, H. (2014, October 31). My Open Tour: a critical turn. Retrieved November 3, 2014 from Learningcreep: http://helencrump.net/2014/10/31/my-open-tour-a-critical-turn/ • Denscombe, M. (2010). The good research guide: for small-scale research projects (4th ed.). Berkshire: Open University Press. • Eraut, M. (1994). Developing professional knowledge and competence. Oxon: Routledge. • Eraut, M. (2004). Informal learning in the workplace. Studies in Continuing Education, 26(2), 247-273. • Garrison, D., & Anderson, T. (2003). E-learning in the twenty first century. New York: RoutledgeFalmer. • Gerstein, J. (2011). The Use of Twitter for Professional Growth and Development. International Journal on E-Learning , 10 (3), 273-276. • Hart, J. (2015, March 31). Twitter for Learning: The Past, Present and Future. Retrieved April 20, 2015 from Learning in the Social Workplace: http://www.c4lpt.co.uk/blog/2015/03/31/twitter-for-learning-the-past-present-and-future/ • Hawksey, M. (2014) Available from https://tags.hawksey.info/.
  37. 37. References • Hayes, E., & Gee, J. (2010). Popular culture as a public pedagogy. Retrieved Sept 29, 2015, from jamespaulgee.com: http://jamespaulgee.com/admin/Images/pdfs/Popular%20Culture%20and%2 0Public%20Pedagogy.pdf • Holmes, K., Preston, G., Shaw, K., & Buchanan, R. (2013, August). ‘Follow’ Me: Networked Professional Learning for Teachers. Australian Journal of Teacher Education, 38(12). Retrieved April 20, 2015, from EduResearch Matters: http://www.aare.edu.au/blog/?p=564 • Hughes, G. (2010). Identity and belonging in social learning groups: the importance of distinguishing social, operational and knowledge‐related identity congruence. British Educational Research Journal, 36(1), 47-63. • Ito, M., Gutiérrez, K., Livingstone, S., Penuel, B., Rhodes, J., Salen, K.,Watkins, C. (2013). Connected learning: an agenda for research and design. Irvine, CA, USA: Digital Media and Learning Research Hub. • Lupton, D. (2014). ‘Feeling Better Connected’: Academics’ Use of Social Media. News & Media Research Centre, University of Canberra. Canberra: University of Canberra. • Seely Brown, J., & Thomas, D. (2011). A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change. Copyright by Thomas & Seely Brown. • Siemens, G. (2006). Connectivism: Learning Theory or Pastime for the Self-Amused? Retrieved April 30, 2015, from elearnspace Everything eLearning: http://www.elearnspace.org/Articles/connectivism_self-amused.htm • Singh, S. (2015). The Fallacy of “Open”. Retrieved May 20, 2016, from savasavasava: https://savasavasava.wordpress.com/2015/06/27/the-fallacy-of-open/ • Stewart, B. (2014). Networks of Care and Vulnerability. Retrieved May 10, 2015, from the theoryblog: http://theory.cribchronicles.com/2014/11/04/networks-of- care-and-vulnerability/ • Stewart, B. (2016). Collapsed publics: Orality, literacy, and vulnerability in academic Twitter. Journal of Applied Social Theory, 1(1), 61-86. • Veletsianos, G. (2012). Higher Education Scholars’ Participation and Practices on Twitter. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning , 28 (4), 336-349. • White, D., & Le Cornu, A. (2011). Visitors and Residents: A new typology for online engagement. First Monday, 16(9).Yin, R. K. (2014). Case Study Research: Design and Methods (5 ed.). California: Sage Publications.

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