Are we there yet? the notyetness of emerging technologies practice and research in online learning

Looking rear view mirror
Looking backwards and forwards CC-BY-NC

Any parent will recognise the plaintive question “Are we there yet?” asked by children impatient for the journey to be over, the holiday to start. In using technology in learning and education, hopefully we will never really get there but experience fun in our experiments and learn from our experiences. We may find that there are better and worse journeys, decisions that opened up opportunities and others that closed them down.

Amy Collier and Jen Ross have come up with the intriguing concept of notyetness, based on George Veletsianos’ assertion that emerging technologies are ‘not yet fully researched” and “not yet fully understood” in online learning. Amy flags up the enabling characteristics of emergence that can flow from notyetness

creating space for emergence to take us to new and unpredictable places, to help us better understand the problems we are trying to solve.

She gives three examples of projects with notyetness that have touched me personally in the last year: Domain of One’s Own , Fedwiki Happening, and Rhizo14.  I am currently reinventing my web site with the wonderful help of Tim Owens at Reclaim Hosting, I have two fedwiki happenings under my belt and I was a participant and researched (with Jenny Mackness) Rhizo14. This morning, I watched the livestream of Sheila MacNeill’s keynote to #OER15, where one of the themes was the different shades of open that might be tried in the drive to mainstream Open Educational Practice. Sheila seemed to be recommending a pragmatic approach to mainstreaming of OEP, and this chimed with Lisa Chamberlain’s identification of Facebook Groups as a kind of not-yetness

The ideas of not-yetness at an MIT or Stanford are so far beyond the realm of my little community college that they would intimidate or even shut down emerging technology discussion for all but a few of the most technologically-edgy of faculty at my school.

But Facebook, good ol’ Facebook, almost the grandpa of social media now, is a kind of “not-yetness” on my campus. (Not to mention it has a nearly flat-line learning curve which is important for a 10 week quarter). The idea of opening a class to social media of any kind is not-yetness here. The use of Facebook groups is not-yetness here. The connectedness of letting outsiders participate with students in a class via Facebook is very not-yetness here.

I should declare that I have a love-hate relationship with Facebook: it’s great to keep in touch with my far-flung family but I have concerns about Facebook privacy aspects and its use of data. I taught a first year undergraduate module 2009-2013 where most of the students were Facebook users, making it possible for them to conduct small group investigations into privacy and data use (meaning Facebook membership was not compulsory and there was no Facebook interaction with tutors). So I feel sympathy with Lisa’s pragmatic approach but also a little uneasy.  There are quite a few reasons not to use Facebook in formal education: the creepy treehouse effect, Selwyn(2009)’s recommendation to leave Facebook as a backstage space for students, and the implications of mandating students of a space that is managed externally to the college or university. 

In thinking further, I also recognised an interesting link between the notyetness of both emerging technologies online learning practice and research into that practice. Ferguson(2012) identifies three different interest groups for learning analytics – governments, educational institutions and teachers/learners. When learners interact via Facebook, the major interest groups for the data are Facebook and the customers to whom they sell advertising.  Although, Facebook makes some anonymised interaction data available through apps like Netvizz, their track record for research is questionable. Selwyn’s 2009 study found that only 4% of student interactions related to their studies and so students who elected not to participate in an optional Facebook social space were not too disadvantaged but moving significant  elements of learner interaction to Facebook seems different somehow.

There is already a trend of outsourcing some educational services to private companies, and it’s easy to see that ‘free’ services can be attractive but Facebook isn’t Reclaim Hosting whose strapline is “Take Control of your Digital Identity”.  What will we see in the rearview mirror if there is a substantial move of study-related interaction to Facebook groups?

Ferguson, R. (2012). Learning analytics: drivers, developments and challenges. International Journal of Technology Enhanced Learning, 4(5/6), 304–317. Retrieved from http://oro.open.ac.uk/36374/1/IJTEL40501_Ferguson Jan 2013.pdf

Selwyn, N. (2009). Faceworking: exploring students’ education-related use of Facebook, 34(2), 157–174. doi:10.1080/17439880902923622 also currently available at http://blogs.ubc.ca/hoglund/files/2011/05/facebook.pdf

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francesbell

I left full-time employment as a Senior Lecturer in Information Systems, Salford Business School in January 2013. Since then, I only take on projects that interest me, and try to make time for the things I struggled to do when I was at work - travel, gardening, textile crafts. I am still interested in the impact of the digital on life - work, learning, play. I volunteer as an IT buddy at Macclesfield Library and do research on informal learning online.

9 thoughts on “Are we there yet? the notyetness of emerging technologies practice and research in online learning”

  1. I have been thinking about Facebook and education for years but more deeply over the last year. I only heard about notyetness very recently and your keynote yesterday helped me think about pragmatic approaches vs missionary zeal (that we have already discussed). Maybe Facebook is the worst openwasher of all.

  2. hi Frances! just dropping by to say thanks for the connection between Sheila’s keynote and not-yetness – I’m finding that really generative. *wave*

  3. Hi Frances. I can totally appreciate the issues with Facebook, and never meant to imply it be the end all be all of open teaching or that faculty should mandate students be there. My point was really to use Facebook as a metaphor for the simple tools that may be groundbreaking for schools (or faculty) on one end of the continuum of emergence as compared to those using Fedwiki, DS106, and other notyetness with their students on the other end of the continuum.

    Specific to Facebook, I think of a couple of things annecdotally (though, again, I’m not here to die on the cross of Facebook – it was just a metaphor). I’m not sure we’re invading the student’s backstage space anymore. That ship has sailed. Students personal use of social media has fled Facebook for Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat by the millions in recent years – not because education is on Facebook, but because their parents are there. (2013 eCampus http://viewer.zmags.com/publication/b985b5ef#/b985b5ef/6) Btw, does this mean we need to leave Twitter now? Hey, we were there first! 😀 .

    Creepy treehouse is easy to avoid by leaving integration of these kinds of tools optional – which makes the connection and interaction a choice left up to the student.

    In small community colleges, with limited budgets, 10 week quarters, and taking all who come through the door, practicality definitely drives what we can do to moves students into the more messy notyetness where creativity and imagination can reign.

  4. Thanks for your reply Lisa – your pragmatic approach reminds me of my own use of desktop tools. I take your point about Facebook being a placemarker for ‘easy to use’ tools. I love Fedwiki (in a way that has surprised me) but I couldn’t imagine using it with some the big classes (150-300 students) that I used to teach and wouldn’t have had access to technical support. A team of three of us offered Buddypress to a class of 250 but that was exciting but nail-biting, and impossible the following year when IT support was centralised.
    That’s a really interesting point you make about where students are backstage. I took a look at the Pew 2014 Social Media survey http://www.pewinternet.org/2015/01/09/survey-methodology/ It seems likely that although most young people are still active on Facebook, it’s just one of many SNS for many of them so they could choose to Whatsapp or whatever:)
    Maybe some of the research unis with good access to funding will do some qualitative research to update Selwyn’s study.
    I am still troubled about the data though and I suddenly remembered that Google Apps have been targeted at education for quite a few years so I had a quick look to see if there are any concerns there. This interesting article turned up http://safegov.org/2014/1/31/google-admits-data-mining-student-emails-in-its-free-education-apps So I guess that I am saying that pragmatic innovations like yours can be emergent but when colleges and unis outsource their edtech to the cloud, it might be difficult to turn back, emergence might be lost. The likes of Facebook and Google look very much like monopolies http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/mediatechnologyandtelecoms/digital-media/11537546/Google-charged-with-monopoly-abuse.html and it sometimes feels like they are engineering cultural change for their own ends.

    1. I love this conversation so much. It involves three of my favorite ideas lately: the Fedwiki, Notyetness, and dissing Facebook! Heavenly Convo! In all seriousness, I got Lisa’s use of Facebook as a metaphor most likely because I know her. What’s interesting to note for me is that I have a faculty members who are livid about the idea of students collaborating on Facebook rather than online within the LMS. Livid, as in, they want to shut it down. I’ve disliked Facebook personally from the start (MySpace gave me the willies), but I know people truly love it, and that’s wonderful for them. I find myself advocating for students to use Facebook to study because it’s amazing for networking with quiet students. Why wouldn’t you want students connecting about your course outside of required time? Is it any different when they meet at a coffee shop? Is it any different than meeting in the library? My credibility goes down when I’m asked if I’m on Facebook, of course, so I have to point out that I use G. Docs. and Twitter for collaborations and I Instagram for photo fun, so I’m not completely anti-social network (obviously). Fb is just not for me. The conversation falls flat when I point out that students are going to do it anyway, so you just look silly trying to make a policy in your courses. The sneaky/creative students will figure out how to do it.

      I’ve tried to think a bit about the mindset idea that Lisa sparked with her post, so thanks for the research you’ve linked here, Frances. It’s helped me cast on a few more ideas;)

  5. I certainly wouldn’t want to do the foolish and impossible thing of banning students from using Facebook – I use it myself. I would be very happy to think that they were making informed choices of how to use Facebook or other SNS and to be alert to the changes in default settings – the Facebook they signed up for may be changing, relaxing its privacy settings. Leah Lievrouw said a long time ago that privacy is a strategy and students avoiding the LMS discussion boards and being selective about their use of Facebook, etc. can be seen as strategies. An informed student could see teacher surveillance on the LMS of unassessed discussion between students and Facebook’s use of their data as equally problematic .
    I like the coffee shop/library analogy – students on campus have to find whatever space they can to work in small groups but we would expect them to (and support them in) share their work in effective ways.

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