Blogging as public pedagogy

This blog – the whole site – is one of two featured in a newly published article by Dr. Carol Azumah Dennis. The other is Kate Nonesuch‘s blog, Working in Adult Literacy‘. The study is in the International Journal of Lifelong Education.

This screenshot describes the journal, which is an excellent resource for reflective adult educators.

CAZ

The abstract below gives a flavour of the study. The full text is available by subscription only.

Carol Azumah Dennis

Blogging and social media provide (comparatively) free opportunities for open dialogue and shared learning about education. Blogging can lead to new ideas and perspectives as other people comment, add links, share, collaborate and challenge.

The ‘Reader’ feature of WordPress blogs opens up a wealth of reading and these virtual public spaces offer rich pickings for reflective practice.

The haphazard and spontaneous nature of web communication means that unexpected responses can follow once a blog or a comment is written. The interaction between different online platforms is unpredictable and discussion can move from one channel to another with surprising agility.

The ‘Publicize’ feature on WordPress can publish links from a blog automatically to Twitter and LinkedIn and copy it to other blogging sites. Email followers receive links. This means that responses and discussion are spread over a variety of online platforms and not just directly on WordPress. Various online curation tools also pick up blog links and publish summaries in collated digests. The whole discussion is uncontrolled, democratic and becomes ‘co-owned’.

The boundaries between online and offline communication become blurred. One form complements the other. Conference content is shared via social media and responses fed back. This is sometimes displayed in real-time on large screens as a crowd-sourced commentary, which, in turn, informs blogs.

I’ve also been told about voluntary WEA Branch members who print out copies of blog updates from this site and circulate them in paper formats. (Is this flipped blogging?)

Connections with several other bloggers – too many to name – have introduced me to a wider community of interest and practice that complements debate and development in my work with the WEA. These bloggers include Kate Nonesuch and Carol Azumah Dennis. I have never met either of them and my only contact with them is through social media.

You can find an ‘Ultimate List of UK Education Blogs‘ at the excellent multi-authored Echo Chamber blog. The authors have devoted a lot of time to putting the list together and are pleased to hear about other blogs that could be added as the list evolves.

Policy, pedagogy and purpose are central to many of these online and offline discussions. The journal article suggests that Kate’s blog and mine show a shared commitment to creating alternative educational futures. That alternative should include changing the perception that education is only for children and young people and only preparation to meet employers’ needs.

The blogs on the ‘Ultimate List’ present a range of views on these and other educational issues. They are free to read and shared generously. ‘Public pedagogy’ is a good term for them.

Doesn’t all this activity eat up too much time? It could do for people with educators’ curiosity and a natural inclination towards involvement. The web might be uncontrolled but we are in charge of how we use our time. We can’t read or respond to everything but dipping in and out of resources, using tools such as Twitter lists of bloggers, helps to have the benefits of ‘CPD with a cup of tea’ without being a slave to it or being too distracted from other priorities.

Reflective practice and feedback in leadership and management

Reflective practice is a feature of good teaching and learning. It’s important for governors and managers in education too.

Last week WEA Trustees and senior managers met to work on the next stages of our strategic planning. We used critical thinking and questioning to challenge any ‘fixed mind-sets’ in the planning process. Our working principles for more detailed strategic planning included the following:

1. Stick to core principles – education first
We agreed not to work on finance and funding strategies until we had focused on the priorities and direction of our educational work. Our vision, mission and values are central to planning. We concentrated on plans to improve outcomes for our students and their communities based on our prioritised themes of employability, health and wellbeing, community engagement and culture.

StrategicPlan-Graphic_thumb

2. Avoid the ‘echo chamber’ effect
We recognise that talking among ourselves could lead to predictable thinking as we read the runes, even within a lively, democratic organisation, unless we consider other sources of information and interpretation. Contributions from external experts can ginger up our approach to strategic planning and help us to review our work in the light of wider social, economic, policy and educational trends.

3. Keep challenging stereotypes
People are individuals with different interests, talents or aspirations, whatever their circumstances. Inclusion has to be on the basis of personal aims, ambitions and circumstances and not on a patronising tick-box approach. There’s more about some of our current work on equality and diversity at http://betterforeveryone.wordpress.com/.

4. Empathy and involvement
We discussed the need to think about things from the perspectives of students, tutors, volunteers and partners, trying to see the impact of plans from their points of views. We recognise the dangers of second guessing other people’s opinions on their behalf without wider, inclusive discussions.

5. Identify historical ‘drag’ factors that slow down progress
We challenged the attitude of, “We can’t change this because we’ve always done things this way.”

The meeting released some fresh questions and ideas to discuss at Scottish, regional and local levels in England and was a productive way to review and update strategic planning assumptions.

Meeting the matrix Standard
We received the feedback from an intensive two-and-a–half week assessment for the matrix Standard on the day after our Strategy Day. (The lower case m isn’t a typo.)

The matrix Standard is the unique quality framework for the effective delivery of information, advice and/or guidance on learning and work. It promotes the delivery of high quality information, advice and/or guidance by ensuring organisations review, evaluate and develop their service; encourage the take up of professionally recognised qualifications and the continuous professional development of their staff.

See http://matrixstandard.com/ for more information.

We were delighted with the feedback, although we’re never complacent. The report won’t be available for a few weeks but it is very encouraging. We enjoyed hearing the independent validation of the WEA’s strengths after a rigorous assessment of 5 English regions. We’re also pleased that the suggested areas for improvement aligned very closely with those that we had identified in our own Self-Assessment Report, Improvement and Development Plan and during our Strategy Day.

Social movements, social media and manipulation

Speaking at the WEA Scotland’s AGM in Edinburgh on Saturday, Professor John Field focused attention on the decline of some traditional social movements that supported the WEA’s birth, the flourishing of social media and adult education’s role in promoting democracy, fairness and social justice.

Can social media give us the means to reconnect, rethink and revive social movements or develop new ones? Can they help to reverse the decline in adult learning shown by recent research, such as the 2012 NIACE Adult Participation in Learning Survey? (http://shop.niace.org.uk/2012-participation-survey-headline-findings.html)

Jayne Stuart, Director of the WEA in Scotland talked of, “great strength in connections”, as she introduced the “world of difference” theme at the AGM and encouraged people to tweet from the event. John Field reinforced the view that it’s never been easier to connect and to create online educational movements and opportunities for civic engagement.

We soon saw Twitter connectivity in action as people way beyond the room commented on proceedings in Edinburgh’s City Chambers and joined in discussions from near and far. The WEA’s AGM in Edinburgh was linked to the WEA’s Southern Region AGM at the Wellcome Institute in London. People from the Northern College for Adult Residential Education, NIACE, the University of Cambridge and Edinburgh City Council joined in the communication, which reached people as diverse as Members of the Scottish Parliament and a genealogist in Harrogate.

This unprecedented level of instant networking reinforces a feeling of collective agreement and shared purpose. This is very encouraging but we might need to stop and think about whether we are reaching, influencing and listening to people whose views might be different from ours. We can become complacent if we don’t see the challenges.  As John Field said, “education is a social process and is most exciting when we’re challenged and confounded”.

With this in mind, are we sufficiently aware that social media and web search engines such as Google actively filter out views that we might disagree with? Eli Pariser’s book, The Filter Bubble: What the Internet is Hiding from You, makes interesting reading on this issue. It’s described as, “An eye-opening account of how the hidden rise of personalization on the Internet is controlling – and limiting – the information we consume.”

Pariser describes how Google began customising its search results for each user in December 2009, presenting us with the predicted links that we are most likely to click on. In effect, Google, Twitter, Facebook and other web-based systems now manipulate how we access and share information on an individual basis.

Knowing this kind of information is highly relevant to how we work and also to the kind of education that we offer. How big is the leap from personalisation to propaganda? Understanding society, communication, censorship and control is fundamental to high quality and relevant adult education that encourages critical thinking.

Is the internet controlling how much we are confounded and challenged? If so, what are the likely consequences?