Can you be critically reflective in a web 2.0 environment?

The idea of being a critically reflective practitioner is fundamental to many professions.  In terms of work based learning, we talk about the different theoretical and practical approaches to reflection, whether that is Kolb’s experiential learning cycle, or Schon’s reflection in action.  However, social networking provides us with some interesting curveballs in terms of critical reflection.

How do we use web 2.0 to encourage reflection on our own practice, facilitate it with others or impact on the behaviours of others around us.  Riedinger (2006) suggests that web 2.0 applications, such e-portfolios ‘…open wide the possibilities for reflections of all types: in action, before action, after action, in solitude, in consultation with peers, in consultation with instructors, coaches, and advisers, written, spoken, videotaped, or graphically represented’ (Riedinger 2006: 93)

The ability to undertake reflection using a variety of instruments, whilst suggesting that we might be spoilt for choice, also encourages us to use the tools or mediums we are most comfortable with, whether that be text, audio, video or simply sharing experiences with others using chat or skype.  Tosh and Werdmuller (2004) argue that the combination of these tools as instruments of learning is an extremely powerful form of critical reflection, where we are engaged not just as consumers of information but as evaluators and creators.  They call this multi-platform space a ‘learning landscape’, where ‘…learners engage in the whole process both academically and socially should increase the opportunity to build one’s learning instead of just being the recipients of information’ (Tosh & Werdmuller 2004: 7).

Have we considered the role of engagement in this process of critical reflection?  To this point, we have assumed we are engaged in our practice, keen enough to ask questions and seek to improve it.  However, Jenny Moon (2001) suggests that learning can occur, at a less detailed level, when we simply ‘notice’ things.  A deeper level of learning we need to make sense of the things we notice, construct meaning from them, work with that meaning and finally transform our practices (see Jenny Moon, http://www.york.ac.uk/admin/hr/researcher-development/students/resources/pgwt/reflectivepractice.pdf).  These deep layers of learning occur when we engage and become connected to the practices of reflection and the outcomes of that reflection

 In the context of our wider discussion about facilitating reflection using web 2.0 platforms, let’s look at two very unique notions with reflection, feedback and collaboration.  They both bring other people into the reflective circle.  They widen they scope of contemplation past out own navels and into our community, our networks, our peers or our leaders.  Feedback positions our practice within a wider structure of other practices and asks others to critically evaluate it, feeding back to us the output of that evaluation.  Collaboration at its simplest level is informed by the old cliché that ‘two heads are better than one’, but at a complex level accesses the power of the whole, the work of teams, the creative energy that can flow from the collaborative process and innovation and excitement that comes from working with some one.

Kroop, Nussbaumer and  Fruhmann (2010) expand on these two notions in the context of learning by breaking down the reflective processes that a web 2.0 environment can enable, which support the practices of feedback and collaboration.  They include ‘…discussing, arguing, disputing, revising, reviewing, assessing, writing, reworking and producing articles’. (see http://mature-ip.eu/files/matel10/kroop.pdf).  These active processes are enabled by the tools we use in social networking and social media.  In general, they also require an engaged approach to reflection, not simply absorbing information or noticing it, but becoming involved in its production and sharing.

I found this youtube video by accident.  It is a well evidenced argument that the modern student engages in a different way of thinking, consumes more information digitally and reflects in a different way on their experiences and practices.  Have a look.

a question of identity

one of the key themes in the blog discussions on web 2.0 has been the issue of identity.  Whether it be in the guise of protecting it, promoting it, stealing it or making it over, identity is at the core of how we as professionals (and social creatures) behave in an interactive online environment.

One of my main areas of research is the about the production and distribution of hand made printed magazines called zines (pronounced zeens).  The makers of zines often use a very unique style of writing and frequently portray themselves in their own zine in ways that represent their identity, but don’t identify who they are.  In the zine ‘epitaph for my heart: a survival guide to being social’, the writer is only identified as ‘amandapandajapanese’ and the photo of her is heavily photocopied and has part of her face obscured.  This is her public face or identity.

 

Now, what does all of this have to do with web 2.o and our professional identity I hear you ask?  Good question, I answer.  The front page we offer to the increasingly archived online world represents our primary public image.  We spend a large amount of time adding data to websites, social networking pages and professional social media like linked in or spotlight.  Let me ask you a question…how long did you take to choose the image for your facebook account? Or for your blog?  How many alternatives did you cycle through before you got there? Do you think the pic represents you? the best of you? an angle that makes you look different or more or less of something? (professional, attractive, employable, old, young whatever!) 

 

Tosun and  Lajunen (2010) identified that whilst internet usage can have negative effects on a users personality, these are negated or minimised when you can be your ‘true self’ on the internet  (Does Internet use reflect your personality? Relationship between Eysenck’s personality dimensions and Internet use Computers in Human BehaviorVolume 26, Issue 2, March 2010, Pages 162-167)

 

Fogel and Nehmad (2009) went further by identifying if there were any differences in how much of our identity we reveal (maybe our true self) in the use of facebook versus myspace or in terms of our gender or personal level of risk we generally take (see http://www.brooklyn.edu/pub/departments/bcurj/pdf/nehmad.pdf)

 

These two studies both look at the notion of issues such as trust, privacy, risk, behaviours and confidence that occur in an online environment.  Are these different than in a work environment or a social group? There are differences in terms of availability (try fitting 500 million facebook users in a bar!) and in terms of access (the internet allows relatively easy, searchable access to information, and privacy is more at the discretion of user as opposed to something that is automatically assumed – think of it as if your bank gave out the details of your bank account, just not the pin to access it – if you could select the option to not display that information, I am sure most of us would.  Its just that banks would never make you make that decision, its automatically assumed)\

 

However, back the zines example.  There is something to be said for the creation and usage of an online persona.  Adesola in her blog made note of the use of an avatar (my facebook has a look-a-like avatar, but my blog has a pic of me).  Is your identity simply portrayed by a photo or name?  I’d argue that your identity is better portrayed and constructed through the content you generate online, the way you interact, the messages you transmit and the way you engage with others both inside or outside your networks.  ‘Epitaph for my heart’ is not about the way it looks, or that I don’t know her name, or can’t see her face its about the content, which is funny, engaging, disarming and very honest.  Yes, we need a way to identify her and in this case, a way to contact her (http://tinypaperhearts.com/)  but in this case, her words do the talking.

 

Some food for thought I hope!

 

 

making social media tick…

I have just returned from watching ‘the social network’, the movie that fictionalises the formation of Facebook, and the drama behind the contested ownership of the idea. It provided an appropriate time to think back to what makes social media work.

In the movie, the character of Mark Zuckerberg (the ‘inventor’ of Facebook) is asked what is the main purpose driving the initial development of the site. He talks about the ability to replicate the ‘social experience of college online’. What makes people social? What behaviours, practices and skills do we use when were interacting with others? Think about this in a social context. Meeting other people in a class, or at a party and then try and translate that an online environment.

Are we being social for example, at a party, if we sit in the corner, listen to our iPod and ignore everyone there? Whilst this may sound like the plot of a really bad teen movie it does helps us understand social interaction a little. Social media relies on people not just consuming the media (sitting at the party and just watching people have fun) but making the media as well (interacting with people at the party, dancing, talking, sharing). These processes are called in the literature cultural or content production and consumption. In order to consume content on the web, someone has to produce it. One of the most liberating aspects of social media is ease with which people produce and consume content, with little barriers to access. YouTube takes a cheap, often inbuilt camera in your phone or computer and you can make a video, Facebook asks you to share the most basic of details about and you can begin to find friends and share content and ideas.

This ability to produce and consume with relative ease has led to the rise of two interesting new concepts

Firstly is the rise of the prosumer. A prosumer is the combination of both producer and consumer (for a more detailed exploration have a read through http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prosumer, it covers a lot of the theoretical traditions that inform the definition of prosumer)

The idea of a prosumer is interesting in terms of our position as professional practitioners. In the past participation in arts and cultural production was limited by the persons income (professional cameras for example were expensive), a persons skills (often equipment, techniques and processes were complex) and education (many arts and cultural fields relied on long periods of education and training before someone was capable of participating in cultural production). Particularly with the rise of social media and user generated content, these barriers whilst still existing, have been lowered in many areas of production. People learn how to make films through consuming and then producing YouTube videos. More people are exposed to the art of photography by using cheap cameras and posting their pics to Flickr or their Facebook, hopefully getting better with practice and greater exposure to other peoples work. This expansion of involvement of people in cultural production and consumption is the second interesting concept.

This video is an interview with Don Taspcott, author of Wikinomics, who talks about the notion of the prosumer, what it means to be a member of the net generation and how the internet has been invaluable in building communities, encouraging the formation of networks and power of the skills we have acquired as users of social networks

The speed with which cultural production can occur, be spread and shared and then remixed and reused is another important feature of this debate. How quickly can you think of an idea about your BAPP course, share it on your blog, tag it so people can find it and have comments? Free software, online sites that do the processing and ‘back room’ stuff for you (such as YouTube converting your videos into flash format and streaming them, which might require hours of time if you wanted to do that yourself) all make the sharing of content easy. There is however an argument that perhaps quantity does not equal quality and instead of seeing 10 photos of quality displayed in a gallery, we are wading through thousands of pics every day on Flickr in order to find the stuff we really like. This opens a new debate about how we categorise and label information and content (which we might leave for another day)

So, have a think about your roles in terms of making content and consuming content? Are they separate? Do you make content different to what you consume, or for different audiences? What are your motivations for making and producing content?

Here is the trailer for ‘the social network’ (in cinemas now!)

You may also be interested in these statistics about how pervasive and kind of important this whole phenomenon and debate actually is…

Social Media Revolution from Socialnomics on Vimeo.