Changing the World Through Imagery: Snapchat, Instagram, and Flickr

July 19, 2018

Ephemeral moments, briefly captured and briefly shared through imagery, are at the heart of Snapchat—a social media platform used by nearly 75 percent of teens in America, a Pew Research Center report released in May 2018 suggests; it is a tool that is designed to playfully combine text captions and imagery through a here today, gone tomorrow approach. What you post there is generally meant to last no longer than 24 hours before disappearing. The tremendously world-changing impact a Snapchat post can have, however, became clear in early 2018, when a teenaged Snapchat user captured the horrendous moments of the mass shooting of students, by a former student, at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

This was a snap that did not—and will not—disappear. Copied and reposted online and included in mainstream media coverage of the tragedy, it has taken on a life of its own; was part of a student-driven online social media presence that helped spur the March for Our Lives (#MarchForOurLives) protest movement that has attracted participation from students and adults in more than 800 cities worldwide and its companion initiative, Vote for Our Lives (#VoteForOurLives); and, within one month of the shooting, had produced gun-control legislation in Oregon and Florida unlike any that previously came out of years of fruitless conversations between those in favor of somehow limiting access to guns and those who firmly believe that the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution provides absolute, uncontrolled access to guns.

Watching that snap or looking at March for Our Lives images on the Instagram and Flickr  photo-sharing sites takes you to the heart of one of the most divisive debates in America today. You don’t just see people affected by an issue seeking some sort of positive resolution: you see the debate itself playing out in sometimes spiteful, vicious comments between those who find themselves on opposite sides of a debate that was producing few concrete results—until that snap went viral, the students became advocates with often very sophisticated approaches to the social (and mainstream) media tools available to them, and those students joined the voices of those insisting that “enough is enough” and that a positive response to the most awful of situations had to come sooner than later.

The fact that Snapchat was the initial vehicle for providing painfully jarringly intimate glimpses into another tragedy unfolding was probably something that those creating Snapchat could never have predicted when they created a platform for capturing and briefly disseminating ephemeral moments.

“I don’t think [Facebook Co-founder, Chairman, and Chief Executive Officer] Mark Zuckerberg ever dreamed that Facebook would be involved in presidential election scandals and the fake-news cycle. Nor do I think that Snapchat leadership pictured teens snapping violent and traumatic injury in the midst of a horrific crisis,” Samantha Becker, the independent consultant and President of SAB Creative & Consulting, says. “It’s not necessarily something you envision from the get-go, but it makes sense that social networks would be effective vehicles for spreading news, exposing real-life events in progress, etc. But there can definitely be backlash. I’m thinking about the Logan Paul YouTube scandal from a couple months ago, where he showed footage from a suicide. People are rightfully concerned that social media can glamorize the tragic. It’s a very delicate balance and there is a fine line between sharing something that spurs positive action vs. negative reactions. The in-situ experience of social media means that people aren’t always thinking before they post—and they can be greatly penalized for that or end up inspiring the wrong kind of action.

“I don’t have a solution for how and where to draw the line, but we could use more guidance around that and more ways to educate forthcoming generations and provide proper digital literacy training.”

Briefly tracing the early, rapid growth of #MarchForOurLives provides a strong reminder that specific social media platforms do not operate in a vacuum; they are part of an overall combination of traditional and relatively new media formats available to those who want to take the small- and large-scale steps that can lead to changing the world. #MarchForOurLives at least in part grew rapidly because those Snapchat images inspired action in a variety of ways: through mainstream and cable news programs; postings on other social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Instagram, and YouTube; fundraising efforts coordinated by the nonprofit March for Our Lives Action Fund and others; and the personalization of the story through Parkland student-activists including Emma Gonzalez and David Hogg. In fact, it is the personalization of that message through the voices of Gonzalez, Hogg, and others that draw us and inspire us to action through the power of storytelling—through Snapchat, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and book-length explorations that bring these stories to people who might otherwise be overwhelmed and be unable to see that the road from observer to activist can be traveled in many different ways and in relatively short periods of time. Hogg and his sister Lauren appear to understand this implicitly: less than six months after the shooting in Parkland, they were able to publish #NeverAgain, a call to action published by Random House Trade Paperbacks.

 N.B. — Paul is currently writing Change the World Using Social Mediascheduled for publication by Rowman & Littlefield in Winter/Spring 2019. This is the twelfth in a continuing series of excerpts from and interviews for the manuscript in progress.

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Shaping Education Unconference 2018: The End is the Beginning (Pt. 4 of 4)

May 3, 2018

I’ve always appreciated a thought I’ve found in the work of a variety of writers I admire—the end is the beginning—so it was wonderful to find that the formal end of the Unconference for Dreamers, Doers, & Drivers Shaping the Future of Learning in Tempe and Scottsdale, Arizona late last week immediately initiated series of new beginnings that are continuing to unfold as I write this piece nearly seven days later.

It was an inspiring, transformative day and a half of presentations, discussions, and planning by teacher-trainer-learner-dreamer-doers from several different countries on a few continents, preceded by an informal evening reception to initiate the entire gathering arranged by Arizona State University Chief Information Officer Lev Gonick with the assistance of Samantha Adams Becker and many others. It immediately produced many productive conversations and initial plans for action. It extended beyond its formal conclusion through a couple of post-Unconference sessions that expanded the group of participants to include members of the Arizona State University community. And, in a stunningly quick follow-up, those involved with organizing the Unconference announced, within days, that as many materials and resources as could be gathered had already been posted on a publicly-accessible website—a site, which in essence, provides a virtual Unconference experience for anyone interested in participating asynchronously. More importantly, the website creates an additional avenue to assure that what happened in Arizona won’t stay in Arizona.

It was—and is—dreaming, doing, and driving at a global level. And it is, in essence, a wonderful example of a high-end blended (onsite-online), synchronous-asynchronous experience at its best, with the possibility of rhizomatically-growing conversations and actions that, if successful, could lead to positive changes that will benefit the global community that previously was drawn together and served very well by the New Media Consortium (NMC). The Unconference is simply the latest wonderful manifestation of that community, in a post-NMC environment, seeking familiar as well as new places (onsite as well as online) to continue the work it does so well—in long-term NMC partner organizations including EDUCAUSE and CoSN (the Consortium for School Networking) as well as community member-generated groups including the Slack Beyond the Horizon community which has spawned FOEcast (Future of Education forecast) for those who did not want to lose the global community of teacher-trainer-learner-doers NMC had so effectively nurtured across a variety of sectors in our lifelong-learning environment. There is also a newly-formed LinkedIn group created expressly to continue Unconference conversations regarding the present and future of micro-credentialing not only in higher education but also in many other parts of our lifelong learning sandbox—and many other offshoots that will gain more of our attention in the weeks and months to come as dreams begin to be transformed into actions.

Lev himself, in an email message to the 129 of us who participated onsite in Tempe and Scottsdale last week, does a great job of setting the context for anyone interested in knowing what the website offers:

“Our minds are still racing with all the ideas and insights you contributed on shaping the future of learning in the digital age. It’s amazing what can transpire when a collection of diverse perspectives are in the same place at the same time. Thanks for coming with an open mind, ready to share your knowledge, dreams, and concerns.

“As you know, our talented graphic facilitator Karina Branson of ConverSketch created visual representations of the Unconference discussions as they unfolded. Additionally, lightning talk speakers presented their big ideas and questions. All of these materials, from Karina’s visuals to the slide decks, are available on a special website we’ve created for this community:

The site also includes a link to the Twitter feed produced through #ShapingEdu hashtag which many of us used to extend the conversations beyond the physical walls of the Unconference meeting room and the outside-the-room conversations that continued in restaurants, the hotel lobby, the hotel parking lot, and numerous other locations so that conference “participants” included many colleagues who weren’t physically with us but, in a very real blended-world-sort-of-way, very much with us; accessing and adding to that Twitter conversation was just one of the numerous ways in which the Unconference can be said to have already taken on a extended life far beyond the short period of time during which we were interacting face to face.

­­And, in what can be seen as a commitment to leave no Unconference stone unturned, the website organizers have even added a “Media and Blog Reflections” section that, as I write this, includes a few of the articles that are already available from participants and will, without doubt, include many more that are either freshly-posted or on their way to being posted. (Karina herself has an interesting set of insights, on her own blog, about into how graphic facilitation primed the pump for many of the productive conversations that began during the opening reception.)

We have a lot of work ahead of us. And we know that those who were skeptical of and/or critical of what the New Media Consortium and its numerous partners and community members produced, will probably be equally critical and skeptical of what the Unconference dreamers and members of our extended global community of learning are in the early stages of pursuing. But our openly-expressed desire to be inclusive and transparent in our work—in this lovely, dynamic, innovative community of Edunauts in higher education, the kindergarden-through-12th-grade sector, community colleges and vocational schools, museums, libraries, and workplace learning and performance committed to supporting lifelong learning at its best—means we look forward to working with you and anyone else interested in being actively engaged in the process of dreaming, doing, and driving that was so wonderfully visible at the Arizona State University Unconference last week.

N.B. — This is the fourth of four sets of reflections inspired by the Unconference for Dreamers, Doers, & Drivers Shaping the Future of Learning in April 2018.


Shaping Education Unconference 2018: Micro-Credentialing and Exploding the Classroom (Pt. 3 of 4)

April 30, 2018

If any of us had mistakenly thought that all the dreaming, planning, and neighborhood-building that took place all day last Thursday during the Unconference for Dreamers, Doers, & Drivers Shaping the Future of Learning in Tempe and Scottsdale, Arizona had drained us, we quickly learned otherwise when we formally reconvened for a final half-day of activities Friday morning.

A few lightning talks by participants primed the dreaming-planning-doing pump once again, and we were soon back in some conversational neighborhoods that had been established Thursday within the Unconference meeting room on the Scottsdale campus of the University of Arizona. At the same time, we were establishing a couple of additional neighborhoods Friday morning—including one centered on the topic of micro-credentialing in the temporary physical city of LearnerDreamerUnconferenceville. (I suspect this particular city is going to have a very long and productive life as a blended community existing in rhizomatically-growing online discussion groups and face-to-face meetings whenever we can again find ways to gather.)

For me, the fast-paced, very focused micro-credentialing discussion brought together interwoven threads of nearly a half-decade of conversations onsite and online with colleagues—all grounded in recognition that higher education is facing a tremendous challenge in finding/redefining its place in a world that increasingly questions the value of a four-year education and the higher-degree programs that are often extremely expensive and time-consuming. As one colleague mused shortly after the final formal Unconference session ended: Formal education will change radically within 10 years. We don’t stay in a job for five years; why would we stay in college for four? (And while I think there are plenty of great reasons why some of us will continue to see, value, and cherish those four-year experiences with occasional returns to onsite/online formal educational settings, that question is one that is well worth asking of anyone committed to lifelong learning and survival in the sort of rapidly-changing environment that my colleague Jonathan Nalder is attempting to address through his tremendously creative Future-U/First on Mars efforts.)

Following the pattern we used in our Thursday neighborhood conversations, participants in the micro-credentialing neighborhood set out to accomplish three things: define our unifying dream, establish what we hoped to do in one-, three-, and five-year periods of time, and document what was driving us toward those dreams and actions. The dream, with graphic facilitator Karina Branson helping keep us on track, quick came together: to connect formal and informal learning credentialing and create a confirmed, shared taxonomy so it would be useful to learners and those needing to know how those learners’ experiences match what is needed in contemporary workplaces. Looking toward the three- and five-year time horizons, we dreamed of helping create a system wherein empowered learners can express goals that would be documented through micro-credentialing; foster more opportunities for compound diplomas; and nurture a lifelong-learning pattern in which earning and learning remain intertwined.

Karina Branson/Conversketch

ShapingEdu–ASU Unconference_Micro-Credientialing_Group_WorkActions to be taken in the first year of our efforts include attempting to partner with on-campus registrars to see how this system can be created, nurtured, and sustained; see what standards need to be created to serve the overlapping interests and needs of learners and employers; and establish a mechanism to continue the conversation—efforts already taking shape through the creation of a LinkedIn discussion group and efforts to provide a forum for the discussions/planning/actions through our Slack Beyond the Horizon community which has spawned FOEcast (Future of Education forecast). Projected long-term actions to be taken by the micro-credentialing group include attempting to design a visual framework for micro-credentialing and continually seeking ways to foster collaboration with all identifiable partners in the (lifelong) learning process—not just those involved in higher education.

There are a number of factors driving many of us toward an effort of this magnitude at this particular time, and there are certainly numerous barriers behind which any skeptic could easily retreat. But that in-the-spur-of-the-moment question about why anyone would commit to four-year learning programs in a world where job and career changes are so prevalent offers one of the best reasons to pursue this effort. And an offhand comment made by my colleague and fellow Unconference participant Tom Haymes made about the need for “exploding the classroom” in the most positive of ways playfully pushes the conversation forward even more.

If we’re going to avoid the prediction that at least one colleague made at the Unconference—that our four-year colleges and universities could disappear or be much different in ten years than they are today—then all of us Edunauts who love the richly rewarding and highly varied onsite, online, and blended environments available to us today need to be actively engaged in the process of dreaming, doing, and driving that was so wonderfully at the heart of the Arizona State University Unconference last week.

N.B. — This is the third of four sets of reflections inspired by the Unconference for Dreamers, Doers, & Drivers Shaping the Future of Learning in April 2018.

Next: After the Unconference


Shaping Education Unconference 2018: Moving Into the Neighborhood (Pt. 2 of 4)

April 30, 2018

One of the more playful and productive exercises at the Unconference for Dreamers, Doers, & Drivers Shaping the Future of Learning in Tempe and Scottsdale, Arizona late last week involved building neighborhoods. We weren’t using hammers and nails, and no hardhats were required. This was an exercise in identifying key issues in higher education and other learning environments; pulling tables together to create neighborhoods of conversation within the conference room in which we were meeting; and then diving into those conversations designed to identify what the residents of the newly-established Unconference neighborhoods held as their unifying dream, what we hoped to do in one-, three-, and five-year periods (horizons, anyone?) of time, and what was driving us toward those dreams and actions.

Because of my ongoing interest in finding ways to nurture and sustain a global online community (FOEcast—the Future of Education forecast group unified through a “Beyond The Horizon” group on Slack) that has emerged from the closing and Chapter 7 bankruptcy proceedings initiated by New Media Consortium (NMC) board members in December 2017, I immediately moved into FOEcastville and dove into planning with others inspired by this post-NMC community which is evolving with the addition of members who had no direct, previous connections.

Defining our dream was a fairly easy undertaking because the effort had already been underway for a few months: developing a highly-functioning, sustainable community of action that will extend to sectors beyond higher education and will include spin-offs to connect to other learning organizations worldwide.

Establishing a list of actions to be completed within one-, three-, and five-year periods also was straightforward. Our year one goals include engaging in strategic planning; continuing to establish mission, vision, and value statements that will guide us and others who join our efforts to identify and promote positive changes within the various lifelong-learning environments in which we work; producing documents that will be useful to those joining us in our efforts to continue contributing to global efforts to shape the future of learning—and make those documents available under Creative Commons licensing; and seeking ways to continue working together online (e.g., through the Slack “Beyond the Horizon” group) and onsite (e.g., through gatherings including the Unconference for Dreamers, Doers, & Drivers Shaping the Future of Learning).

Our three- and five-year goals contained an implicit acknowledgment that this is still very much a rapidly-evolving community that draws from the community that existed under the auspices of the NMC and also draws from the extended, rhizomatically-growing community of our non-NMC colleagues who share an interest in collaborating to have a positive impact on lifelong learning throughout the world. With that in mind, a major item on our list is to continually engage in revisions of our implantation plans so we can react to the changes that will undoubtedly occur in our learning environments. We also made the commitment to look for opportunities to establish and/or work with organizations tackling parts of the effort to reshape learning (e.g., those focused on higher education—like EDUCAUSE, which obtained the NMC’s assets through the Chapter 7 proceedings and is proceeding with plans to publish the 2018 Horizon Report > Higher Ed Edition halted by the closing of the NMC—as well as others working in our extended lifelong-learning playground: colleagues in the K-12 sector, community colleges and vocational schools, museums, libraries, and the extensive network of workplace learning and performance (talent development) colleagues. (Those that come to mind for me include colleagues who gather under the auspices of first-rate learning organizations such as ATD—the Association for Talent Development or who are filling unmet learning needs through opportunities provided by LinkedIn/Lynda.com).

It was heartening to see so many representatives from so many of these organizations and industries working together during the Unconference to develop plans of action to help reshape learning; Arizona State University Chief Information Officer Lev Gonick did an amazing job of pulling together a broad coalition of stakeholders in the conversation from a variety of countries. Our colleagues from EDUCAUSE were active participants in the process of attempting to determine how our post-NMC world will take shape. Several members of the former NMC community accepted the invitation to present lightning talks to stimulate the conversations. The result of these combined efforts and commitment to innovation was that any participant interested in being part of our ongoing efforts to better serve our learners had plenty of opportunities to find a place to engage in what will be an ongoing, dynamic shaping process—with an eye on producing concrete, measurable results.

It’s worth paying attention to how and why the Beyond the Horizon/FOEcast conversation—and so many others—progressed so quickly. This was a group that already had been interacting online for a few months and was drawing upon years of experience as a community of teacher-trainer-learner-doers (learning facilitators as activists in the best sense of that word). We approached our work with a sense of collaboration and a commitment to positive action; there was very little argument, but, on the other hand, this was far from an exercise in groupthink—plenty of ideas surfaced, and those which appeared most promising seemed to find advocates willing to carry them further in the weeks, months, and years ahead of us, while those ideas which did not immediately catch fire can certainly resurface as needed. The space itself, on the Arizona State University campus in Scottsdale, was conducive to the types of interactions Lev and others did so much to foster: the room had plenty of natural light flowing in from outside; the room itself was spacious and had furniture that could easily be moved to create the best possible set-up for an exchange of ideas. (The FOEcast group quickly created a T-shaped arrangement of tables that made it possible for most people to hear each other easily and contribute to the conversation.)

We also need to acknowledge the importance of the conversation facilitators in an endeavor at the level of the Unconference and those neighborhood-development sessions. FOEcast co-founder Bryan Alexander led our FOEcast neighborhood’s discussion. Lev contributed tremendously through his facilitation of the entire Unconference. And graphic facilitator Karina Branson seemed to have the ability to be in the right place at the right time to keep conversations progressing in positive directions throughout the entire Unconference.

As our highly-motivated group of Edunauts reached the end of a day of dreaming, sharing, and planning for a future we very much want to help create, we did exactly what the event was designed to stimulate: continued our conversations well into the evening in small groups over dinner. And when we reconvened Friday morning for our final hours together onsite, we were ready to take our efforts even further.

N.B. — This is the second of four sets of reflections inspired by the Unconference for Dreamers, Doers, & Drivers Shaping the Future of Learning in April 2018.

Next: Exploding the Classroom


Shaping Education Unconference 2018: Homecoming for a Community of Dreamers, Doers, & Drivers (Pt. 1 of 4)

April 27, 2018

I didn’t even make it through the hotel lobby to check in before being gratefully and willingly drawn into my first conversation with cherished colleagues here at the Unconference for Dreamers, Doers, & Drivers Shaping the Future of Learning in Tempe and Scottsdale, Arizona Wednesday afternoon.

Unexpectedly seeing Jared Bendis, Tom Haymes, and Ruben Puentedura—people I had known, adored, and learned from for years through the New Media Consortium (NMC) before its board of directors closed the organization and put it into Chapter 7 bankruptcy proceedings—made me immediately feel as if I were home again.

It has been a long emotional journey to arrive here at the Unconference. Many of us had been shocked and tremendously saddened by the sudden demise, in December 2017, of the NMC. Committed as much to the global community of teacher-trainer-learner-doers (this, after all, is in the best sense of the word, a community of learning “activists”) fostered by the organization as to the organization itself, we quickly mobilized via a “Beyond the Horizon” group on Slack—a popular social media tool that can be used to effectively facilitate productive online conversations within a community of interest. Bryan Alexander, Lisa Gustinelli, Jonathan Nalder, and I were among those immediately turning to the challenge of exploring ways to continue working together even though the organization that had brought us together had disappeared. It only took a few days to begin reconvening members of the community; within a few weeks, we had drawn approximately 200 members into that Slack community. What was and is fascinating about the Beyond the Horizon group is that it is was not and is not simply a group of people gathering to hold a wake; new members—colleagues who never had any formal interaction with the New Media Consortium, but who shared the community’s commitment to creativity, learning/learners/lifelong learning, innovation, and educational technology—began joining by invitation so that, in essence, it was rapidly evolving at the same moment that it was reconvening.

We asked some fundamental questions—often prompted by our colleague Bryan, whose Future Trends Forum remained one of several important touchpoints for us as we struggled to regain our footing—about where we had been as a community and where we might go in our suddenly-changed training-teaching-learning-doing environment. Within a few weeks, the community had already come up with a rudimentary framework for action, which Bryan helped nurture and document on his own blog. We continued to look toward a future firmly rooted in our history and traditions as a community of learners. And, with a core group of planners and a still-expanding group of partners, began establishing a new identity—under the community-established name FOEcast (Future of Education forecast)—held an online “ideation” week to continue developing a formal plan of action.

But what really gave the community a major push was an invitation from our colleague Lev Gornick to gather here in Arizona for the unconference that will conclude this afternoon. Having attracted nearly two dozen sponsors—including EDUCAUSE, which obtained the NMC’s assets through the Chapter 7 proceedings and is proceeding with plans to publish the 2018 Horizon Report > Higher Ed Edition halted by the closing of the NMC—and reached out to a community that extends beyond the NMC community, Lev is giving us a much-needed opportunity to build upon what many of us have accomplished together so we can continue working to produce positive transformations within the global learning community in which we live, work, and play.

Karina Branson/ConverSketch

That hotel-lobby conversation that extended over a mid-afternoon lunch blossomed at the Unconference opening reception, where a fabulous graphic facilitator, Karina Branson, helped create the foundations for the conversations and work that went on all day yesterday and will conclude early this afternoon. Karina, by listening to individual participants informally recall their first experiences with digital learning, created a wonderfully illustrated timeline. Not as a way of reveling in perceived past glories. But, rather, as a way to remind ourselves that we have a tremendously rich legacy upon which we can build as the group continues to evolve into something even better and more productive than what we had before the NMC disappeared.

It would be easy to fall into maudlin, clichéd observation that the more than 100 of us gathered here in the Phoenix area arrived to be present for and participants in the rebirth of a community of learning. But that would be a terrible misrepresentation of what I sense is really happening here. This isn’t a rebirth, from the ashes of a wonderful, innovative, inspirational organization, of the community created and nurtured by NMC for more than two decades. This is the reconvening of the members of a dynamic, thoughtful inquisitive, and highly-motivated group of Edunauts—a term coined by Jonathan Nalder and at least two other people, independently of each other!—who as the title of the Unconference suggests, continue to meet and welcome new members into a group of dreamers, doers and drivers interested in being part of the process of shaping a future for learning—to the benefit of those we serve.

And as we left the opening reception Wednesday night and at least a couple of us continued our conversations well into the evening in the parking lot of our hotel, it was clear that our work was not about to begin; it was about to continue with a wonderfully crafted agenda and plenty of work on the table.

N.B. — This is the first of four sets of reflections inspired by the Unconference for Dreamers, Doers, & Drivers Shaping the Future of Learning in April 2018.

Next: A Day Full of Dreaming, Planning, and Doing


Changing the World With Jeff Merrell (Part 2 of 2)

March 19, 2018

This is the second part of a two-part interview conducted with Jeff Merrell, Associate Director of Northwestern University’s Master’s Program in Learning & Organizational Change, for my book Change the World Using Social Media (Rowman & Littlefield; projected publication date is autumn 2018). The interview was conducted online using a shared Google Doc, and has been lightly edited.

 

Jeff Merrell

In a world where employers encourage employees to be available around the clock via the use of mobile devices, is the old rule of thumb “don’t talk politics at work” even a realistic approach anymore, given that lines between personal and professional activities are being inadvertently erased–through actions rather than by design?

Ah. There’s the $1,000,000,000 question.

Look, for me, it starts and ends with the organizational culture. I would not attempt to have “let’s talk social issues” discussions on a large scale if my company or organization did not do that naturally, in other forms. I am going back to my blog post rant a bit here, but I think some things like #MeToo, news around things like Charlottesville, can inspire some short-term discussions of topics within an organization’s online spaces. Maybe it allows people to—in a tiny way—share something that they’ve wanted to say. I’ve heard examples of this. But, for longer term impact, I think organizations need to think about how they “talk” about these issues routinely, in hybrid ways, where the online conversations are extensions or variations of what happens in other ways.

If your organizational culture isn’t strong enough to handle that, or your organizational philosophy does not incorporate some strong element of social impact, then you are not going to get very far.

It’s. Not. About. Social media.

Thanks. That’s really helping me to clarify something I’ve been exploring through these interviews: the impact that social activism through efforts including #MeToo have in settings far beyond what those involved may have originally thought would occur. I’m finding that few people are looking at the professional social media tools, e.g., LinkedIn, Slack, and Yammer, as means to foster social change. Thoughts on how those might fit in to what you just said in terms of conversations among our professional colleagues onsite as well as online?

Well, let’s start with LinkedIn. LinkedIn is about your “brand.” So right there, you are screwed unless you as an individual are seeking to be branded as social activist. But I would suspect—maybe I am wrong—that someone with that mindset would find LinkedIn just not a fit. It’s about people trying to create professional brand in the traditional corporate model.

Slack and Yammer, and similar, allow more co-construction of “space.” A group of social activists, within an organization, could easily start up a Slack community of trusted peers etc., set norms for participation, and maybe have a go of it.

But again, if the organizational culture is not accepting, respecting of that kind of conversation, then it will likely just be some dark secret thread. Where there is hope is when these spaces become places where people might be able to explore difficult topics and the organization is OK with that.

About halfway through the “There is hope in pushing a conversation” section of your “Revisiting: A critical pedagogy for organizational learning?” post, you talk about a “kind of collision between the ‘outside’ social world and internal organizational world…” Have you seen positive change result among those with whom you work as a result of the interactions taking place in the layered communities you mentioned earlier in this conversation?

Let me start over with a couple of examples.

Two of the most powerful “open” discussions we’ve had within our community (so…open to the entire community, but not open to the public) have been about 1) Being a Muslim—visiting student—in the U.S. and 2) the challenges of being a female in tech.

In both cases, these are very strong, female leaders who opened these discussions. And each was spurred by some outside event. Each also said—they would not write what they wrote anywhere else than within the community we created. And each, also, were very savvy social media users—blogging, on Twitter, etc.

And the discussion threads—and related conversations outside of the online space—I found productive for the community as a whole. That was also the general sense of the leaders in this program, and from what I could gather, the community itself,

Positive change coming from it? Not sure I can point to the lives of Muslim students being any “safer” or that women in tech are better off now. But there is a history here that now proves and demonstrates that our [learning] community—MSLOC—can take on these topics and explore them and learn from them.

That sort of takes us into the area of the same blog post that discusses “intentionally subverting the norm” as a way of fostering change. Any additional guidance you would offer readers in terms of the impacts that approach can have within organizations as well as onsite and online communities?

Yes, this is an interesting question. I recognize that there is some “power” at play here in what I am about to write, but I think a key is calling out (in a positive way) when “subverting the norm” happens. So, say I am a community manager or a leader and recognize that some set of voices are challenging our assumptions, but the challenge is productive in some way. For me, a key is just calling that out: Hey, this is great! We may not agree on all of it, but we love the critical thinking. And maybe engage in some true active listening—online or off—that results in some change in practices or routines.

I see those moments in facilitating classes. So, my perspective comes from that. If I am doing my job well, I am recognizing and encouraging multiple voices to be heard and to challenge assumptions.

How can you foster trust and safety in online environments when incivility is rampant?

Within organizations, don’t hire people who are incivil. 🙂

I say that half-jokingly. But it gets to my culture bit. If you bring in people who want to be civil participants, and you create a culture that allows for all voices to be heard and respected, then you’ve got a chance. But if all you are about is brand, making as much profit as possible by taking advantage of employees or customers, and beating the competition by any means possible, you’re hosed.

 N.B. — Paul is currently writing Change the World Using Social Mediascheduled for publication by Rowman & Littlefield in Winter/Spring 2019. This is the eleventh in a continuing series of excerpts from and interviews for the manuscript in progress.


Changing the World With Jeff Merrell (Part 1 of 2)

March 19, 2018

This is the first of a two-part interview conducted with Jeff Merrell, Associate Director of Northwestern University’s Master’s Program in Learning & Organizational Change, for my book Change the World Using Social Media (Rowman & Littlefield; projected publication date is autumn 2018). The interview was conducted online using a shared Google Doc, and has been lightly edited.

 

Jeff Merrell

Let’s start with an attempt to set context: can you provide a brief summary of the enterprise technology and organizational learning course you’re currently facilitating or simply cut and paste the course description into this document here?

Let me do both.

http://www.sesp.northwestern.edu/masters-learning-and-organizational-change/designing-for-organizational-effectiveness-certification/creating-and-sharing-knowledge.html

This course explores enterprise social networking technology and its impact on organizational knowledge and organizational learning in the workplace. The course will introduce theory, concepts and frameworks to help you understand knowledge sharing and learning within communities and networks of practitioners, the unique attributes of social networking technology as it applies to organizations, and current uses of network technology to change the way people work or learn (i.e., crowdsourcing and personal learning networks). Finally, you will learn to apply course concepts through prototyping, class projects and business cases.

Topics

  1. Social-practice perspectives of organizational knowledge and learning
  2. Enterprise social networking technologies
  3. Communities and networks in organizations
  4. Innovative models (MOOCs, communities, personal learning networks, crowdsourcing, narrating-your-work)
  5. Prototyping new models
  6. Assessing opportunities for new digital solutions to organizational challenges
  7. Aligning digital solutions to strategic organizational challenges

My own words here:

Our M.S. program, for the past 6+ years, has used Jive as our “learning” platform. We intentionally tried to create more of a workplace feel for our program, rather than using an academic LMS [learning management system]. Jive is an enterprise social network platform that allow us to have dialogue and interactions within courses—privately—and across our entire community of learners, faculty, staff, and alumni. All within one space—and it very much looks like a corporate social intranet.

So, in my course, I have the advantage of leveraging our platform to talk about the issues of enterprise social media. But we also look at things like Yammer, Slack, and, sometimes, other platforms—Chatter—to get a sense of what the field looks like.

But at the end of the day, the course focuses on how enterprise social media and people co-construct/co-constitute the environment. We’re not techno-determinists.

A phrase you just used—“across our entire community of learners, faculty, staff and alum”–perfectly captures what has been so attractive to me in all the work I’ve seen you do since we first met in a MOOC several years ago. Is there a strong sense in your course community that the classroom is the entire world since you so frequently engage participation that encourages collaboration between those enrolled in a course and those who are practitioners, participating with you and your learners through social media?

I think what student come away with, appreciating—I hope!!—are the “layers” of community and networks created by different levels of privacy. So, our class group—community—of maybe 25 to 30 people is only visible to those enrolled in the course. We work hard to create a safe learning space there. The next layer above that is the MS Learning and Organizational Change “community”—some 250 to 300 people. And then, finally, the outside world—Twitter, etc.

What we look at is: What does it feel like to exist across those communities? And why is that important to understand?

The conversation tend to get at safety, trust—“knowing people,” as in close social ties. Keep in mind that all of our students meet face to face as well, so they do know each other.

But for anyone leading in today’s organizations, my bias is that it is important to understand these layers of privacy and community and how that impacts experience.

Remembering that readers of this book are people interested in better understanding how to use social media to foster social change, what specific guidance would you offer them in the following areas: What does it feel like to exist across those communities? And why is that important to understand?

Persistence and visibility—two of the affordances of enterprise social media—scare people, especially in a professional setting. In smaller-scale communities, with a community manager or facilitator who maybe speaks the professional language of the community, you can begin to create a safe place to share. You can create norms that—hopefully—prevent and mitigate the risk of unproductive comments.

But that does not mean that the culture you create in that smaller community necessarily translates to something more public. The more visibility, the more people just freak out, or self-monitor what they do or do not say.

So, if my goal is to have open discussions about critical, tough issues—and I want a variety of voices to be truly heard—don’t assume that because people are open in one tight community that they would be willing to say the same elsewhere. We have amazing, sensitive conversations in our class groups. They rarely “leak out” to the larger community, even when we nudge students to do so. It’s a difficult trick.

N.B. — Paul is currently writing Change the World Using Social Mediascheduled for publication by Rowman & Littlefield in Winter/Spring 2019. This is the tenth in a continuing series of excerpts from and interviews for the manuscript in progress.


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