Networked scholars: reflections on light and dark

This is the last week of George Veletsianos’ open course – Networked Scholars. I have not been as engaged as I had hoped, mainly because my offline or backchannel/closed, more personal networks, have been more important to me over the past few weeks than interacting openly online.

I have also been increasingly aware this year and particularly over the past few weeks of ‘the dark’ side of working openly online, to the extent that I am now reflecting on how much I want to work openly online. It did seem that the Networked Scholars course focused quite a bit on the negatives of working openly online. We started off positively with Michael Barbour sharing his practice on visibility, presence and branding in the first week, but in the second week the focus was on Challenges and Tensions, with some troubling case studies to consider, although the expert chat with Royce Kimmons was excellent. In week three the focus was on caring and vulnerability and Bonnie Stewart shared her perspectives in the Google Hangout session. A need to consider vulnerability indicates the challenges that some academics may have working openly online. This week we have been asked to reflect on our experience and draw a concept map, but me and concept maps don’t go together, so I am going to tackle it from a more personal viewpoint.

I can’t be objective because I haven’t read all the readings, or even followed all the discussion, but subjectively the course has compounded my feelings that there is a ‘dark side’ to all this online sharing and interaction, in the name of being a networked scholar, which currently I don’t feel comfortable with. Of course I know it is the accumulation of a whole range of life and work experiences and not down to the course itself.

But this week I noticed this wonderful image on a Twitter post and felt compelled to follow it up.

Screen Shot 2014-11-14 at 15.55.25

This was shown in lighting architect Rogier van der Heide’s Ted Talk  about ‘Why light needs darkness’. There are a number of beautiful images in this talk, all of which illustrate how we can get a new perspective on the world by appreciating the role of darkness in revealing the light.

So it occurred to me that perhaps the ‘dark side’ of the internet allows us to more clearly see the light and the light paths that we would like to follow. Both light and dark define the space.

In the introduction to the Networked Scholars course, George wrote:

By the end of the course I hope that you will be better informed about the role of social media in the lives of knowledge workers and academics, be able to have an informed conversation about this topic with your colleagues, and decide whether and to what extent you personally might use social media for academic purposes.

I think I could answer ‘Yes’ to all three points, but mostly I think I am clearer about what I am not prepared to do in the name of open networked scholarship; I am clearer about the light and dark spaces.

Academic blogging

George Veletsianos is running a four week open course about networked scholarship and the implications of academics’ presence and visibility online for their work and careers.

The first week is already over and there has been plenty of interesting discussion and two interesting events.

On Wednesday Michael Barbour  joined the course for a day to answer any questions that participants threw at him and he generously shared his strategies for working in the open.

On Thursday there was a webinar with Laura Czerniewicz  who shared her work on open scholarly practice in relation to presence, visibility and branding, including her guide to curating open scholarly content:

An 8-step guide to curating open scholarly content 

and with Sarah Goodier a Four Step Guide to online presence

Also shared in the course was this slideshare by Sydneyeve Matrix about academic branding –

There has been some discussion about whether academics should blog. Some have said that open scholarship means sharing all aspects of your life (I have blogged about this in the past ), but as Laura Czerniewicz said ‘Some people are not comfortable blogging – some people have a blogging voice, others don’t’.

For me it’s not either/or. Sometimes I feel that I can’t get the blog posts I want to make out fast enough. At other times I feel that I have nothing to say, nothing to add to the conversation that has not already been said, nothing that I think anyone would find interesting to read – but sometimes you just have to force yourself and start writing, because as others before me have pointed out, writing is a practice – use it or lose it.

Catherine Cronin has recently said  (I can’t remember where – sorry Catherine) that you can never tell whether something you write might be of use to someone, and you might never know.

Stephen Downes  (a most prolific blogger) has written somewhere (or maybe it was said – again I don’t remember – sorry Stephen) that if you can’t find anything to write about, you must be a boring person, ‘or words to that effect’. I think what he meant was that everyone has something to say – we just need the confidence, the belief that there is someone out there that might want to listen.

This echoes what the poet Bernadette Mayer said in a Modern and Contemporary American Poetry MOOC webinar this week –  ‘You can’t have writer’s block – as that would mean total lack of thought’. It’s not lack of thought, it’s lack of confidence. Various bloggers have written about this (see references at the end of this post).

Bernadette Mayer has provided loads of possible starting points for writers in a long document Bernadette Mayer’s List of Journal Ideas. In the webinar her advice was to find something completely impossible to write about and write about it, such that the problem becomes the material and we use the constraints. Write against the reality that is presented to you – she says.

Bernadette’s advice is for poets, but works equally well for academic bloggers. The advantage of blogging is that it can release you from the conventions of academic writing of the type done for journal articles. You can simply start and ‘let it all hang out’ and include images and multimedia. You can write a line or two or you can write at length. There are a whole host of genres you can experiment with.

I think it would be a shame to think about blogging only in terms of scholarship and academic branding. Blogging is much more than that, even for academics. It is about ‘finding your voice’ and building an identity. As Laura said: ‘So much scholarship is embodied in a person.’

Some references that might be of interest, that I have come across or been reminded of this week are:

Anticipating new open courses and conferences

Next week sees the official end of the summer break for many people, particularly those working in education. The days are getting shorter, the nights are drawing in, but the autumn fruits are still ripening (here in the UK).

In my career in education, these coming months up until the December break have always been very busy. The renewed energy and enthusiasm that emanates from people as they start again after the summer break is almost palpable and, I find, motivating.

There seem, at this time, to be many open courses on offer and conferences of interest. It’s impossible to follow them all, but those that I will be keeping an eye on are:

ALTC website

ALTC 2015: 1st to 3rd September. Riding Giants: How to innovate and educate ahead of the wave #altc

I cannot attend this in person, but there are a number of live streamed presentations which I am hoping to listen to. ALTC is usually a stimulating conference.

Connected Courses. Active Co-Learning in Higher Ed. Sept 2nd to Dec 14th 

This has caught my attention because of the number of well-known names involved in the course design.

Modern and Contemporary American Poetry Coursera MOOC. Sept 6th to Nov 15th.

I completed this course last year, but there is plenty more to learn and it was so good last year that I am looking forward to joining it again. I know very little about poetry, but this does not seem to be a barrier to enjoyment. Last year I didn’t join the discussion forums. They are somewhat overwhelming and move too fast for me. I might give them a try this year, but I think I am once again more likely to watch the videos and do the close readings. Also, having already completed the course once, I will be selective, this year, about the parts of the course that I follow.

Networked Scholars Oct 20th – Nov 16th.

An open, free course being offered by George Veletsianos. I think/hope this course will be relevant to my own research. If it is then I hope to be fully engaged.

8th Eden Research Workshop. Challenges for Research into Open and Distance Learning; Doing Things Better – Doing Better Thing

I would like to go to this conference. I particularly like the look of the programme structure which seems to focus on discussion rather than presentations.

I think this is the limit of what I could possibly hope to keep up with. Usually I only manage to focus on one course at a time.

It’ll be interesting to see whether I manage all this in the coming months, on top of other commitments, and if not, then which topics/courses will claim most of my time!