Next Monday I will be at the University of Melbourne participating in a “National Roundtable” title “Web 2.0 Authoring Tools in Higher Education Learning and Teaching: New Directions for Assessment and Academic Integrity”. This is being run as part of an ALTC project titled Web 2.0 authoring tools in higher education learning and teaching: New directions for assessment and academic integrity

The purpose of the roundtable is to “review experience and make joint recommendations for good practice guidelines”. The aim of this post is two fold:

  1. Force me to actually think a bit about what I know/think about this topic.
  2. Encourage others to share, disagree and improve what I think through their own contributions and experience.

I’m going to use social media, rather than Web 2.0.

I’m also traveling today, so I don’t think I’ll finish this entirely today.

A matter of cultures or mindsets

The way I’m currently thinking about this is the question of cultures or mindsets. There are (at least) two different cultures/mindsets involved here:

  1. The social media culture.
  2. Assessment/learning and teaching within higher education.

For me, good practice around using social media in assessment in higher education is about making sure that these cultures match. I also see this as potentially the biggest hurdle. I’m not sure that the culture of assessment/learning and teaching in higher education can easily match the culture of social media.

This blog post is titled “The impact of corporate culture on social media (An IBM Case Study)” and includes the slides from a presentation at a conference. The blog post includes the following

That culture is, in my view, the most overlooked, underestimated factor determining whether social media succeeds or fails in a company. And when corporate culture and social media are pitted against each other, social media will always fail. Always.

Disclaimer: I recognise that there are problems with using culture in this way. e.g. some claim there can be no culture within organisations, others disagree. I’m using it, I guess, in terms of the “way we do things around here”.

Mono, multi and the majority culture

I do recognise that learning and teaching/assessment in higher education is not a mono-culture. There are many and varied cultures that differ in many ways. However, I think there is a fairly large group of folk involved in learning and teaching within higher education that have much in common. For this I turn to Moore’s chasm and Geoghegan (1994). This is the idea shown in the figure below that shows a chasm between the innovative folk and the pragmatic folk.

The chasm idea is that the folk to the left of the chasm are very different to those to the right. Geoghegan’s (1994) idea is that most of what happens in higher education around instructional technology is designed for the folk to the left of the chasm. This is why most use of instructional technology has little adoption and what is adopted is of poor quality.

Geoghegan (1994) describes the difference between these two groups via the following table.

Innovators Pragmatists
Like radical change Like gradual change
Visionary Pragmatic
Project oriented Process oriented
Risk takers Risk averse
Willing to experiment Need proven uses
Self sufficient Need support
Relate horizontally (inter-disciplinary) Relate vertically (within discipline)

Rather than focus on the culture of the innovators. I’m going to focus on the “culture” of the pragmatists. I do this because they represent by far the majority of people within higher education. Also because the innovators, to a large extent, will take care of themselves. Lastly and perhaps most importantly, because I increasingly see that management and the Information Technology folk within many universities are, for various reasons, increasingly more like the pragmatists, than the innovators. As such, they can and do constrain what happens.

Culture/Principles of social media

I’m sure there’s a lot of this stuff out there. But I’m going to use these principles and in particular the remixing of them here. The 10 principles are (quoted from here):

  1. Decentralization is freedom: Freedom enables us to pursue our thoughts and interests in a social space. Thus decentralization is of primary value.
  2. Information wants to be free: The cost of obtaining information is rapidly declining, but still capable of providing and creating value. Freedom is necessary for free information.
  3. Findability is power: Without findability, the information’s ability to provide and create value is greatly diminished.
  4. Karma is real: The more you give, the more you get. You just don’t know what at the point at which you’re giving.
  5. Rules beget rules: At some point, organization happens so that common understanding of interactions are possible.
  6. Economies have currencies: Trade is possible with Karmic infrastructure and rules of engagement.
  7. Communication is blood: Communication is the transport mechanism for information flow.
  8. Immediacy in all things: Acting on new, validated information when appropriate moves things forward more quickly than before.
  9. Context is fluid: Things change more often, as does your frame of reference. Think about the information you have at various points and look at developments along a continuum.
  10. Associations are inherently good.
  11. The mismatch with the culture of the pragmatists

    I’m running out of time, so cutting this short. My current position is that the culture of the pragmatic, corporate university and the perceptions of the majority of staff are not a good match with the principles of social media.

    For example, decentralisation, free information, karma, communication, immediacy and others don’t fit.

    Flight being called.

    Drawbacks of good practice and the need for theory

    Dave Snowden is not a big fan of best practice and I like his reasoning. The folk sponsoring this roundtable use the “best practice lite” term that seems to be quite popular in higher education at the moment – “good practice”. It seems to remove the strong one and only nature of “best”, but it retains the main problem.

    The main problem is the attempt to duplicate a practice from one context to another. If these contexts are 100% the same then this might be possible, depending on how much you can learn about the practice. But with most universities being complex systems, this is not possible. Snowden takes the approach of understanding the underpinning theory and using the theory as the basis to design an intervention that makes sense within the new context. Rather than repeating what worked in a different context.

    This is what underpins my preference for understanding the culture of social media and universities, for understanding the theory.