Working on edutweet; my experience.

Reflections on a group assignment for E-Learning Experiences Models and Theories 1, part of my Masters in Adult Education.

I approach group tasks with some trepidation.  I don’t enjoy making decisions by committee and often feel that it would be easier to do everything myself.  Trying to fit other people’s busy schedules into my busy schedule can seem a cruel and unusual punishment.  Happily, working with the edutweet group was entirely unlike any group work I’ve ever done.  Here’s how it unfolded…

17April, 2009
I see that a “Twitter” group has been set up on our Ning platform to look at Twitter with regard to “how it can be used to supplement lectures in a university setting”.  I realise that the group has been founded by those I think of as the class social media “experts” and I want to know more.   I’m also afraid I don’t know enough to participate.  Hmmm…thinking…

20 April 2009
Mind suddenly made up (what have I got to lose?) I join and squeeze in just before the group fills.  My longing to join this group reminds me of my reading from Wenger (2000) that discusses how new members of any community feel “an urgent need to align our experience with the competence ‘they’ define.”  [‘they’ here is the Twitter folks in the know]. Their competence pulls our experience.”  (pp 227)  

I scrutinise the photos and profiles of the other members and decide that we have the dominant generations of our era represented; the baby boomers and Gen X.  Coincidentally or otherwise, it seems to be the younger members of the group who are the “experts” and we older folks who are pulled to learn from and with them.   I don’t agree that Gen X represent a ‘Net generation’, made up of ‘digital natives’ (Prensky 2001a, Tapscott 1998).  From my reading and experience, I think all generations equally contain a mix of technologically savvy people, as well as techno-phobes (who can become digital ‘immigrants’ which is what I am attempting), and that it is ageist to assume otherwise (Bennett et al 2008).

2 May, 2009
It’s time to set up our wiki and we need a name.  We toss a few around and fix on edutweet – it’s short, sharp and to the point (and just a little cute like all things Twitter).  We are forming a virtual sub-classroom so I’m sure we will benefit from some form of leadership (Sarah has reluctantly agreed, as the founder, to lead us if needed) and some agreed ground-rules (Shea 1994). We collaborate on the Ning platform to put our group charter together.  It looks like we are going to compliment each other well.

2 May 2009
Our wiki is up and I go over there to take a look…it seems pretty harmless.  I had thought it might require a lot of time to learn to use, but it is relatively straightforward.  If a high level of technology stewardship was required to ensure full participation (Johnson 2009, White 2009) it wouldn’t work for us all (some of the group seem to use wikis a lot, but not all).  My first collaboration on a wiki is about to begin! 

12 May 2009, 6.00pm
Our first meeting, agreed through the wiki discussion board, will be via Today’sMeet.  I look at the platform and think I get it, but still not sure if I will be speaking, typing or both?

Later.  It was a 140-character-at-a-time-typing-meeting!  At first we all typed at once and I couldn’t imagine how we could achieve anything.  However, after one hour we had agreed next steps, divvied up tasks and set deadlines.   I am to collaborate on the educational rationale section with one other person.  Back over to the wiki…

15 May 2009
Working on the rationale and starting to feel this section would be easier to do on my own.  We’re not working to the same timeframes.  I’ve done my first draft and am waiting for input.  I Tweet my phone numbers over the weekend so we can discuss it but a conversation doesn’t happen until very briefly on Sunday night and we don’t really agree anything.  Where are those ground-rules again?  Back to the wiki…

19 May 2009, 7.30pm
Just finished our second meeting on TodaysMeet – amazing what you can do with 140 characters.  We suggested changes and discussed what has to happen before our presentation.  Someone suggests using TodaysMeet as a back channel in the classroom on the day and everyone gets excited about that.  We discuss some fundamental concepts for edutweet.  Most of the wiki is coming together and I’m feeling nervously optimistic that we’ll pull it off.  Now, what am I actually going to say on the day? 

Later.  I’m thinking we could benefit from one f2f or phone conversation a few days ahead of presentation but everyone else seems confident to just meet at 8.30 on the day.   That’s really late for my personal working style but we all live geographically distant so it’s practical.  I realise that I want to be prepared 24 hours before presentation, and my partner is unavailable to finalise our part, wanting to discuss it on the day – for me that’s too late…differeing personal styles again.

22 May 2009
Heading home on the bus, pouring rain, reading the wiki via my iphone and thinking we may have omitted a major point.  Tweet the group and we discuss briefly, decide to discuss in the morning.  I go to bed feeling excited about the presentation and a little uneasy about lack of collaboration from my writing partner.  I’m used to being more prepared for presentations through f2f meetings with my colleagues so this is very new.

23 May, 2009, 5.30am 
Awake early so make some notes for our 8.30am meeting.  Tidy up the wiki slightly but wonder if I’m treading on toes so stop.  Do a bit more research, make another cuppa…I look forward to meeting this team who I have come to know entirely through Twitter, Ning and Today’sMeet.  Reflect on what I have revealed on Twitter about myself.  Do these people feel they know me?

8.30am  Send a last minute tweet confirming meeting details.  Within five minutes of the appointed hour five out of six show up and we meet, clarify a few things and chat.   Short of a rehearsal (not going to happen in the timeframe) I am seeking clarification about edutweet’s goals.  I think it’s just me – perhaps I didn’t read other people’s sections of the wiki carefully enough.  Just before 9am I get my chance to play devil’s advocate and ask some questions I think we might be asked, and get clear on exactly why this community will exist.  After that I relax.

10.00am  We are about to go on.  We are fortunate that the first presentation provided a great introduction to Twitter and legitimises it as a social and educational tool, setting the scene for our presentation.  We are nervous.  One member Tweets just that out to her followers.  The time comes and we set up the back-channel on Today’sMeet and roam around to make sure everyone gets it.  Most of the class signs in and some quickly take to the medium, asking questions and commenting.  We interrupt our presentation with questions from the back channel so I only present half of what I had planned, then spend some time answering questions instead. 

Wrapping up now…everyone seems interested, engaged, and the questions are good ones and relevant for the subject and audience.   We end by telling the class that the entire presentation was arranged on TodaysMeet and in the wiki.  There have been no f2f or phone meetings and we are proud of it.  One team member admits to a huge learning curve (and that initially the lack of meetings “scared the pants off” her – she’s not alone!) 

10.30am   Excited and hugely relieved (it worked!)  The back channel was a powerful demonstration of how 140 character communications can work.  The whole class seems to be buzzing with having been a part of an educational “experiment”.  I log on to Twitter and see that our lecturer has Tweeted mid presentation that “gr8t questions are being asked about Twitter in her Masters in elearning class”.    We’re “famous” 😉  We Tweet about it and then settle in to watch others presentations.

1.00pm  We eat lunch together and agree on what needs to happen next to get our wiki ready to go.  A final Today’sMeet is set for Tuesday.  We share a huge bowl of soup, like family.  Funny that most of us have not even spoken before 8.30 this morning.  A sense of informed community amongst the group is evident…it reminds me of Wenger; “(p)articipating in (these) ‘communities of practice’ is essential to our learning.  It is at the very core of what makes us human beings capable of meaningful knowing.”  (Wenger 2000 pp 229).  We have also learned how to behave on the wiki and in Today’sMeet meetings through observing each other’s behaviours, following ideas from Cornford about how adults learn unwritten rules of conduct through observation (1999).

26 May 2009
Our TodaysMeet room is used to discuss what needs to happen next.  I’m a little outraged that my partner thinks our section is “finished”.  To me it’s very much a draft so I offer to edit it.  We all agree we’ll aim to be “hands off” the wiki by Friday afternoon.

29 May 2009
A flurry of last minute activity.  One group member likens it to “fairies” that come in and tidy up.  It’s a bit like that … many hands at work tweaking and tidying all over the document, all day.   By around 6pm the activity stops.  Then, going home on the bus, I find a great picture on Twitter that will help illustrate a point, retweet it and we agree to add it.  Twitter’s resource sharing power is demonstrated again.

30 May 2009
One group member Tweets a link to the wiki to her followers – she’s proud of it and so am I.  It has been a fascinating experiment – and it has produced a good result.  I’ve had one five minute phone conversation with another group member – all other communication was through Twitter, the Wiki, Ning and TodaysMeet.   At no point did we exchange email addresses and I only gave my phone number out a few days before the presentation as an “emergency” contact for anyone who was running late on the day.  Nobody rang me (a few Tweeted).  It seemed a point of pride that we not contact each other using “traditional” methods and it mainly worked very well. 

Conclusion
I consider this to be a very successful collaboration, in every sense, and not just taking into account our methods.  The learning curve was steep (and a little scary at times for those of us new to the technology) but I’m still using Twitter and will continue to.  I would like to use wikis again, with more time to upskill myself on the advanced skills.  I am considering using them at work for collaboration on documents that require shared input.  Today’sMeet is another platform that I can imagine many uses for among our geographically diverse community of practice. 

It’s true that our world has become “flatter”, due to major changes and improvements in communication, however, this doesn’t mean that everyone has “got it”, got the skills (or can access the technology) and the need for continuous (lifelong) learning has not gone away (Seely Brown & Adler 2008).  I now know quite a bit more but still don’t know what I don’t know…that must come next!

References:

Bennett, S, Maton, K & Kervin, L (2008) The ‘digital natives’ debate: A critical review of the evidence, British Journal of Eductional Technology, Vol 39 No 5, pp. 775-786

Cornford, I. 1999 Social learning, in J. Athanasou (ed.), Adult educational psychology, Social Science Press, Katoomba, NSW, pp. 73-96.

Johnson, L.F., Levine, A., and Smith, R.S. (2009)  2009 Horizon Report. Austin, TX: The New Media Consortium, 2009

Shea, V (1994) The Core Rules of Netiquette, accessed online at http://www.albion.com/netiquette/corerules.html  19/03/09
Prensky, M (2001a). Digital natives, digital immigrants.  On the Horizon, Vol. 9, No. 6, pp. 1-6

Seely Brown, J & Adler RP (2008), Minds on fire; open education, the long tail and learning 2.0, Educause, January/February 2008

Tapscott, D (1998) Growing up digital: the rise of the Net generation.  McGraw-Hill, New York

Wenger, E. (2000) Communities of practice and social learning systems, Organization articles Vol. 7(2) pp 225-246

White, N (2009) Howard Rheingold on the social media classroom.  Accessed online on 15 May, 2009 at http://www.fullcirc.com/wp/2009/04/29/howard-rheingold-on-the-social-media-classroom/

 

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