A moment of optimism

by darkpony CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
ok_disconnect_ok by darkpony CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

This blog post has been in gestation for some time and while the ideas have been tossing around in my mind, I have encountered a few conversations that have helped me to turn this from a gloomy to an optimistic idea.
I have been experiencing increasing disenchantment with (hyper)connection and its implications in my life. I use at least four Internet devices- my phone, a tablet, a Macbook and a Windows desktop  and I am bad at shutting down windows, closing applications and generally logging off.  This is a really good or really bad thing depending on how you look at it. When that shopping web site that you looked at on one device suddenly pops up on another web site that you are viewing on a second device, you might feel known or welcomed or, in my case, slightly spooked.

I have been exploring this at a theoretical level for my recent submission to NLC 2016 – reading Ben Light’s book  where he expounds (with lots of practical examples) a theory of disconnective practice, relating to Social Networking Sites (SNS), that helps with our understanding of how states of disconnection come into being and are maintained. Disconnection and connection are not a binary or even on a continuum: they are inextricably linked. Disconnection can enable connection or make it a possibility (Light 2014). Ben’s book introduced me to the work of Mejias that explores the limits of the network in his open book Off the Network. Mejias uses the concept of paranodes that draw attention to spaces beyond the logic of the network and helps us to go beyond the nodocentric view presented by SNS.

On a practical level, I am currently thinking about how I can achieve more control over my (dis)connection with SNS and Google.  Last week, an article by Donna Lanclos and Dave White about the Visitor / Resident model in academic practice online provoked much thought around my current goals on (dis)connection. As I intend to continue with “networked practices such as blogging, social media use, and participation in digital communities” then it would seem that I am engaging in resident modes of engagement for the public content that I present and curate. However, my desire to reduce my exposure to the hidden connections of SNS collecting and using my data means that I want to engage in more visitor-like practices.

As I try to change my web presence and practice, I have come across the concept of POSSE –  Publish (on your) Own Site, Syndicate Elsewhere. This is attractive to me and I am currently experimenting with using Known for web comments.  The Indieweb offers a useful guide.

Catherine Cronin asks us questions such as

How is, and will, higher education respond to the growth of participatory culture and openness across networked publics? How will issues regarding access to education, equity, agency, and ethics be addressed?

and in answering them to think if any of the futures we see are beautiful. Since it’s easy for me to see gloomy futures, this is a good question that has led me to my moment of optimism. Kate Bowles is sensing a “groundswell of optimism”  in the current debates at #dlrn  and #icdeunisa.

All of this helping me to shift from the paralysing pessimistic view that things shouldn’t be like this to the optimistic feeling things can be different. Personally I can make changes in my online spaces, practices of sharing but a more important shift is to how change can be addressed collectively.  Indieweb is part of a collective and practical approach to making a different sort of web but what is the relevance of collective approaches in Higher Education?

In my last few years of teaching, I worked with colleagues on a module that looked at emerging technologies from business and personal perspectives. One of our aspirations was to foster critical digital literacies with students.  We weren’t saying you should/ shouldn’t use a particular SNS in this way or that way but rather let’s think about SNS from the perspectives of members, the SNS and its real customers, those who purchase advertising services.  Once a critical mindset is in place, then the idea that things can be different is easier to consider, and ongoing changes are more likely to be noticed.  This can be about personal choices of (dis)connection and collective actions to influence SNS and other service providers*.  Neither choices nor actions can completely decide our outcomes on SNS and the web but encouraging autonomy and choice seems to me to be a good start.  I think that educators and learning technologists can experience obstacles to this but that’s another post.

*missing text added later

Light, B. (2014). Disconnecting with social networking sites. doi:10.1057/9781137022479
Mejias, U. A. (2013). Off the Network. doi:10.5860/CHOICE.51-4485

A story of connection and disconnection around #ALTC

I was very aware of the ALT-C conference on 8-10 September even though I was not a registered delegate. For a start, it was in Manchester, just down the road from me. I used to be a regular attender at ALT-C and over the years have given workshops, organised symposia, reviewed abstracts and research papers and promoted the new format in the weeks leading up to the abstract submission date. I even made a short ‘Introduction to Manchester’ speech on crutches at ALT-C 2009 🙂

I thought about submitting for ALT-C 2015 but since I have retired and have to fund my rare conference attendances from my own pocket, I couldn’t justify the expense. I am saving up for Networked Learning 2016 and will hope to attend ALT-C at some time in the future.

Maha Bali whom I ‘met’ on Rhizo14 kindly invited me to meet for coffee on Tuesday 8 September, and I was lucky enough to meet Ash Shaw, Suzan Koseoglu and Rebecca Hogue (all of whom I had previously known online) in a hotel café. Whilst I was there Maha and Rebecca ran one of their ‘Virtually Connecting’ sessions. I didn’t join in (except to wave at the end). I was in the background playing with Maha’s lovely daughter and chatting with Susan and Ash when they weren’t in the session. Susan and I then travelled together to Manchester Piccadilly on the hopper bus (the long route) and had a lovely talk before we each got our trains home. Another Rhizo14er Sarah Honeychurch who was at ALT-C took exception to the Virtually Connecting sessions as they intruded on the ‘real connections’ of their group meeting at ALT-C in person.

John Rylands Reading Room by Gillie Rhodes CC BY-NC 2.0
John Rylands Reading Room by
Gillie Rhodes
CC BY-NC 2.0

Because I was already coming into Manchester for this meetup, I arranged to meet up earlier with Peter Shukie at the John Rylands Library. We sorted out various things over coffee and lunch, gossiped , and then Peter interviewed me as part of his PhD research. In between coffee and lunch we went into the magnificent reading room in John Rylands. We sat quietly opposite each other (no Internet) at this lovely table, Peter reading and writing, me with scissors and sticky tape, reconstructing an overlong article. So I missed Steve Wheeler’s keynote on Tuesday morning.

On Wednesday morning, I was working on the reconstructed paper and dropped into #altc on Twitter where I came across a rather odd conversation between Fred Garnett and Bob Harrison. I think that Bob was joking but his comments did leave rather a sour taste, as he seemed to imply that contribution to ALT was about attending ALT-C as a delegate.

Bob Harrison tweet
Bob Harrison tweet

I am not sure that ALT see it entirely like that though I realise that ALT-C must be a significant income stream, as well as an excellent networking event. Bob’s comments gave me pause for thought as I wondered what ALT and I do for each other. ALT give generously with webinars, seminars, SIGs and make the conference accessible at some level to hashtag attenders like me, with streamed and recorded keynotes and other talks. I loved Jonathan Worth’s keynote and having caught the tail end of Laura Czerniewycz’s, I now want to start at the beginning and watch it through.

I pay my annual subscription to ALT and review articles for Research in Learning Technology; I have served as journal co-editor and on committees so I do think that contribution to ALT is about more than attending the conference in person.

I have watched over the years as ALT have experimented with conference amplification and I am pretty impressed with the balance they have achieved of giving conference delegates a good experience whilst including the wider ALT diaspora as they can.

So I disagree with Bob – I think I can play a part in ‘shaping the future’ even if I don’t attend ALT-C every year.

As I was writing this story, I was thinking about my recent reading and writing on theorising ‘disconnective practice’:

we have to disconnect in some way in order to make the connections we want to emphasise at a particular point in time feasible Light(2014).

Disconnection and connection are implied in each other even though connection seems to get all the props.

Light, B., 2014. Disconnecting with social networking sites.