My connect: disconnect stuggles

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(photo via Unsplash)

Donna Lanclos has just written a thought provoking post based on the recent Future Happens event.  In the post she focuses on the discussion around the hopes/fears of the participants around social media.

There was a thread that worried that social media use and presence would facilitate disconnection of students, from the same list of people and places–from each other, from their teachers, from their communities.  And from themselves–a sense that engaging with social media can be inherently alienating from one’s self, that one can be lost, that the authentic self (whatever that means) can become subsumed in the surfaces of social media performance

But as Donna rightfully highlights,  connections “are modes that shift, with priorities and practices.

I was particularly struck by one of the questions Donna poses in the blog

“What is the utility of disconnection, of being aware of practices and places elsewhere, but leaving them alone?”

It really resonated with me and how I’ve been reflecting on my work, my networks and connections, particularly over this year.

In my professional life I am pretty connected via social media. My use of it has evolved over the years and I have no doubt, will continue to do so. For me the positive benefits still outweigh the negative ones.

However I am not a slave to my twitter (or any other social media) stream. I still enjoy the (apparent) serendipity of finding things (like Donna’s post). I’ve never taken a deliberate break from twitter. To be honest I’ve always found it quite odd that some people seem to feel the need to publicise that they are doing so. But there are times when I do disconnect.  I’m not overly concerned about missing out on anything, as I believe that if anything is really important to me I’ll find out about it somehow, some way, some day.

I’ve recently had my the first part of my annual performance review.  In terms of some of my outputs, it could be argued that I have a greater connection with my external community that I do with my internal, institutional one. Should I be worried about potential perceptions of  “oh, she’s just always on twitter, swanning off to conferences, blogging”? Should that make me disconnect?

To quote Donna again

When people are connected to one group, does it come at the expense of connection to another?   Is connection a zero-sum game?

I don’t think so, but how I balance value judgements that could be made around my apparent internal/external/connection/disconnection is something I am always acutely aware of.  I think that my external connections and sharing actually only enhance my ability to do my job.  At times my external  connections and the support I derive from them is what actually keeps me going.

When I “swan off” I am pretty much always talking about what happens here what I/ we do.  I interact in digital/social media spaces as that’s an integral part of my role, of how I extend my knowledge, how I understand and contextualise the potential for many things, how I can support others to do the same in their context.  It’s a fundamental part of my professional identity.  How can I authentically support anyone in the use of digital technology if I don’t interact with it. How can give meaningful advice and support around developing digital capabilities if I don’t actively engage and reflect on my own interactions?

From the one conference I’ve swanned off to this year, (oer17) the notion of open hospitality has really resonated with me. I like to believe that all successful educators provide hospitable learning spaces be that physical and/or digital. We need to extend that notion of hospitality as much as we can, so that if we do use social media with our students as part of the formal curriculum we have helped them as much as possible to be comfortable in that space; that we engage with them in those spaces, that we support them in appropriate ways; that we point out (based on our own experiences) some of the challenges they may encounter. That we remind them it is us, humans, who are the trolls, the bullies.  And equally that we share some the positive experiences of social media. Share our stories of how it has allowed us to share, to connect, to extend and share knowledge, to have fun.

What does worry me, particularly just now, is that it is easier to disconnect than to connect. It is easier to use the negative arguments around social media to justify disconnection or non-connection. Like others I worry about how social networks are being controlled, closing down, manipulating us and our data, but I worry more about how else I would be able to connect in such a meaningful way.  We can control, subvert the system because ultimately  it’s what we do with our connections  that really matter.