I don’t normally shout (in typing, at least. I am known to noisy in person, though), but I sincerely feel it is appropriate this time around. During the last week, I’ve encountered several related issues, which I don’t fully understand. Or, to be more precise, I understand them, but they worry me a great deal.
Or, to be more precise, I understand them, but they worry me a great deal.
Earlier this week, a quite popular Danish site and forum for people working with media and communication (and hey, who isn’t these days?) known as “Kommunikationsforum” featured an article on Twitter. Despite some very reasonable personal conclusions from the author towards the end the article, it mostly painted a bleak picture based on the very small userbase in little Denmark. Because there are few of us on Twitter, numbers are ridiculously low when looking at traffic generated, and also the general activity level on Twitter (which just reinforces my existing belief, that English is lingua franca in this respect).
My earlier musings ought to make it very clear, why I disagree with a reduction of Twitter to a simple generator of traffic and hits. Not only does this quantitative, metrics-based analysis not say much about the real potential of Twitter, it ends up being just another example of trying to understand one service in the light of, or even worse, as an extension or copy of what came before. This, to me, is certain to lead to misunderstandings and a shallow understanding of, in this case, Twitter.
This brings me to my most recent and eye opening experience (in all its simplicity).
A couple of days ago I participated in a small workshop focusing on the many international (or EU, at least) collaborative projects to improve education. I’m in one of those projects, and I wholly support these initiatives. The day was all fine and good, visited by very passionate and dedicated people, who obviously were all eager to make the famous difference. What struck me as surprising – frightening, even – was one very tiny exercise, where we each had to tell, why we attempt to distribute whatever we learn in our respective projects.
I may not have been entirely clear or persuasive myself, but I do hope that I managed to convey, at least partly, my huge passion and belief in sharing. I don’t mean to do projects for the project itself, just for the involved institutions, or for entirely egoistic purposes. I want to do projects, because I sincerely believe, that they can contribute to a better world – however microscopic this contribution may be. Frankly, if that’s not the purpose, I don’t care.
Several other participants looked at this quite differently. As they said, they share because they must. Because EU (or whoever is funding the project) tells them to.
In the current upshot of talk on motivation, this is clearly extrinsic. We need the idea of sharing to be intrinsic and meaningful to everybody.
I’ll be very quick to point out, that I’m not targeting anyone here. It’s not that these are not good, competent, inspired people with the best of intentions – I am completely convinced, that they are. It is merely a symptom of a challenge, which is to be found everywhere in society.
We need to challenge and change the firmly rooted culture fuelling the perception, that sharing is secondary, tertiary or even completely undesirable altogether. This holds true in education, but also in society in general. I’ve been there several times, but never stop repeating myself on this matter. Sharing does not undermine your own position. Sharing is not like sawing off the branch, on which you yourself are sitting more or less comfortably. On the contrary. By sharing you make yourself relevant, and move into an even more lucrative position of being someone people want to consult in the future.
I don’t have any final solutions (I never do, mostly because I think that’s an illusion; nothing is final at a macroscopic level). I don’t claim to be particularly good at it myself, but I keep trying, keep exploring new and (perhaps) better ways. This is probably also my primary recommendation – don’t fear experimentation. Try different methods, tools and approaches. Mix online with offline, writing, talking, showing. Be a little more ad hoc’ish (anarchistic if you like).
Also, sharing should not be thought of as something we do once the project is over. Don’t wait for the build-up of a large body of work before you start talking about what you’re fiddling with. Think of the process as an open, iterative one with a constant feedback loop influencing decisions and directions. Sharing is just one part of reciprocal relationships, where you talk, other people listen and talk back. It’s not always as simple and well ordered as this – far from.
We really do need this change of culture, and we need more transparency.