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False Starts and Learning Through Conversation: An Interview on Social Media and Learning with VCU Staff


UPDATE--Be sure to check out Britt Atwood's take on our discussion here.

The other day, I had the great pleasure of doing a Skype interview with Britt Watwood, Jeff Nugent and Bud Deihl of the Virginia Commonwealth University Center for Teaching Excellence. I've been corresponding with Britt on a variety of topics for awhile and Bud and I had bonded over Jott. Through our interactions and though reading their blogs, I began to see how social media seemed to be changing their learning and teaching practices. There is also a clear sense of camaraderie and of three people working together on a learning journey that I thought was really interesting so I asked Britt, Bud and Jeff if they'd be willing to do an interview with me. Luckily they said yes. Click above to listen or you can also find the interview here.

Interview Highlights
Our discussion is about 24 minutes, a little longer than I'd intended, but they had a lot of really interesting things to share. A few key things that came up:

  • Through blogging, social bookmarking, etc. each person's work practices and interests have become more visible to the others. This mean that they are able to better share resources and ideas because they know the thinking that's going on and what each person is exploring. This has also increased their own learning as they are able to follow along with what the others are doing so they can start exploring those topics themselves.
  • Even though they have physically been working together for a few years now, their online activities have strengthened their off-line relationships and professional work with each other. Jeff, Bud and Britt meet regularly for coffee to discuss what they're learning, but they also "meet" on weekends and in the evenings through the technology. This has given their professional learning and interactions a tremendous boost. I think it also highlights something important--that the benefits of social media aren't just felt online with people half a world away. They can also be experienced very locally, actually making relationships within organizations stronger as a result. This is something that a lot of people don't get about social media, but it's a really critical point.
  • Jeff pointed out in the interviews that working with two other people who are using social media has helped them overcome the fear of jumping into the tools, especially their fear of blogging. Their feeling is that without the face-to-face relationships they'd built, they might have struggled longer with a fear of taking risks. But because they have each other to act as cheerleaders and coaches, they're moving much more quickly into exploring and adopting different tools.
  • They also reminded me that using social media, especially blogging, is full of false starts and moving in and out of using different tools. In fact, this should really be considered a very natural part of the process that we acknowledge and support because it just goes with the territory. What we need to do is help people stay engaged on some level so that when they're ready, they can come back to a tool they dropped for a little while. And as Jeff points out, having two channels of communication--face-to-face and online--can really help that process of adoption.

One thing I noticed is that you just can't anticipate what tool will get people excited about social media for learning. I've had a lot of people identify blogging as their gateway into social media, but for Jeff, Bud and Britt, it was del.icio.us that got them going, despite the fact that Bud initially thought that "folksonomies" sounded a little ridiculous. Fortunately Britt heard from someone in Romania who was using del.icio.us in her classes and it's been a wild ride ever since.

What I really loved about the interview was how infectious these guys were in communicating their excitement about learning and the tools. It's one of the main reasons I wanted to interview them and this enthusiasm is even more apparent in the discussion.

Related to all of this, I also encourage you to check out Bud's recent post on what he's been learning by using social media--a really great example of reflective practice.  You may also want to add Britt to your de.licio.us network. The man is a bookmarking fiend. 

Some Technical Notes
I used the Pretty May Plug-in for Skype to record the interview. Very simple--just click on "record call."  It worked well, but we did have some problems with Skype fading in and out at certain points, which was something I couldn't fix. It also seems to have recorded our conversation in two separate tracks. If you listen to this with headphones, I'm in your left ear and Britt, Jeff and Bud are in your right. Also something I couldn't seem to fix in Audacity.

For uploading and storing the file, I used the Internet Archive, which is a nice free resource if you're willing to have your audio be public.


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