In the industrial era, organizations became more powerful by being bigger; in the Social Era, companies can also be powerful by working with others. While the industrial era was about making a lot of stuff and convincing enough buyers to consume it, the Social Era is about the power of communities, of collaboration and co-creation. In the industrial era, power was from holding what we valued closed and separate; in the Social Era, there is another framework for how we engage one another — an open one. - Nilofer Merchant
The social era is underway and educational leaders should be examining its relevance to the future survival of our colleges, universities, and schools. Just what is the social era? How do we define the core elements that distinguish it from our past, shall we say, digital era? Most of us today in the educational technology space comprehend what social media is, and that’s a great place to start to begin to deconstruct the “social era.” Nilofer Merchant, author of 11 Rules for Creating Value in the Social Era, points out how difficult it is for us today to use the world “social” without attaching “media” to the end of it; yet how critical it is to understand the core essence of “social.” I found that point to be quite stunning. Go ahead and try it. After awhile, you’ll grasp her point more clearly. You will start to observe essence of “the social era” around you in more things than just “social media.” And when you comprehend social to be a complete overhaul of how we create value, make decisions, and define worth, you will see how sharply it contrasts with the structure, communications, and systems of our schools and colleges.
According to Merchant, in the social era, value is created through connections; power lies in community; collaboration supersedes top-down, hierarchical control. These are all types of interactions we expect when participating with social media, but the point that Merchant makes is that the successful, agile, innovative companies that will succeed in the future are based on a social model from head to toe. Can you think of examples flourishing in education today? Coursera, Udacity, Udemy, Khan Academy.
We must begin to imagine colleges, universities, elementary, and secondary schools as social institutions and recraft our processes, our relationships, how we communicate, how we value what we do. Why? Because there’s so much to gain and nothing to lose! It’s time to stop cutting classes, increasing student tuition, and reducing the number of full-time faculty we hire in a tireless race to balance our budgets as public funding for education dwindles. Taking a page from Merchant, it’s time to stop losing weight in an effort to make ourselves more nimble and time to start reinventing ourselves.
But what would a social educational institution look like? What would your new title be? What would replace that email system that you still rely on for everything? And how would decisions be made without committees and, dare I say it, how would unions evolve? How different would your institution be if each person contributed and each person’s contributions played a role in starting conversations and evoking critical dialogue? When you really get immersed in the theory of leadership in the social era, what you see is that we are amidst a social learning revolution. The social era is an an era of learning. Top down leadership, hierarchy, decision-making, lecture — these are all models to be memorialized. Moving our institutional models into the social era means we move our organizations into a rich, interconnected, participatory, community based model of learning. Now doesn’t that make good sense for a learning institution?
Reinventing Faculty Development in the Social Era
All things within an institution can be social. So let’s focus on a specific example, something you will find in one shape or another at most colleges or universities: faculty development programs. Faculty development programs are under stress, as teaching and learning continues to transform at a rapid pace and budgets at many, especially pubic institutions, dwindle. In recent years, institutions of higher education in the U.S. have increased the number of online classes they offer. These statistics can be tracked through the annual Sloan-C survey reports. In 2010, one in three college students in the U.S. was enrolled in at least one online class, up from one in five students in 2006. Online classes have increased access to college for more non-traditional learners and invented new and excited forms of pedagogy.
However, teaching online have creased new challenges for faculty and obstacles for faculty development programs. Faculty often now teach face to face and online simultaneously, sometimes also hybrid. These multiple methods of course design created intense challenges for maintaining effective course technologies, being present in online and face-to-face classes consistently, responding to student inquiries, grading, providing feedback, developing future content, revising old content, and, of course, staying current on technology which is a continually moving target. Sadly, few institutions have augmented faculty support services in parallel with these increased challenges.
A consistent campus-wide technological event that effects campuses far and wide is the decision to change course management systems (CMS). A CMS is a technology used to deliver online and hybrid classes and can also be used to supplement face-to-face instruction, as well. It provides faculty with a toolkit to use to manage and organize their content, as well as basic tools that begin to introduce the concept of constructivist learning — most typical is the discussion board. CMS technologies are changing quickly, and it’s common to see campuses change their mind about which one they want to adopt. Changing isn’t bad, but when change is consistently managed through our “traditional strategy” rather than the strategy of “the social era,” things are nowhere near as efficient as they could be.
Changing to a new course management system is a retraining effort for the entire faculty that places extreme burden on the faculty themselves, as well as the support staff that delivers the training and either customizes it or develops it from the ground up. Some colleges create online training resources for faculty, while other require the trainings to be completed in person, creating hardships for faculty with complex schedules, or for those who teach part time and at multiple institutions or who live remotely from campus. I just spoke with a faculty member at a college that is changing CMSs over the winter break. She attended a two-hour in-person training session, and that was the only resource her institution was providing. Over break there would be no support staff available to assist faculty with the migration of their courses.
Moreover, currently I am aware of five colleges or universities that are in the midst of transitioning or considering transitioning to Canvas, a new LMS that has caught quite a bit of attention (which I’ll mention again later). Each of these institutions is likely developing its own training resources and programs for faculty (using the old model) rather than shifting to the values of the social era and creating a model that might be more adaptable, more fluid, and much more efficient.
Now, for a moment, what if colleges and universities took a crowd-sourced approach to faculty training? If all institutions are training faculty on the same tool, why aren’t we pooling our resources and sharing them together in one place where we all can learn from them, share, and converse together?
Does it make sense particularly for public institutions of higher education that have found their budgets more and more limited in recent years to continue to turn internally and spend that money on developing content for its own employees to consume? Or does it make more sense to foster a culture that values cocreation and sharing? This would then lead to faculty sharing their own teaching practices, tips, and strategies, creating a more robust community based upon the contributions of individuals with varied and unique skills.
Imagine the robust reinvention of teaching and learning that would begin to take place if faculty-development programs were transported from the walls of the conference rooms on your campus and into the open web. Imagine the connections that could be fostered between faculty across the state, region, nation, world. Imagine how learning activities could be discussed involving collaborations between students from opposites sides of a country or opposite sides of the globe.
This begins with empowering faculty to be driven intrinsically to share their brilliant ideas and seek out new ones. There’s plenty of evidence that this shift is underway with the volume of bloggers and Tweets and GooglePlus users engaged in active dialogue about teaching and learning. Jump on Twitter and search for #edchat or #edtech or #flipclass to check out conversations between teachers (all levels of teachers!) around the world conversing about how they are integrating technology into the classroom effectively. This is evidence of the social era reshaping our pedagogy and our classrooms … now it’s time for our institutions to shift.
Teach & Share: A Social Strategy
I have begun to experiment with using GooglePlus Hangouts as faculty learning spaces that put a new spin on a face-to-face roundtable discussion. With a Hangout, we aren’t limited to hearing from the same voices on campus, and those with access to the physical campus are not privileged over those who live far away or work part time and multiple campuses and can’t attend a traditional face-to-face event. The GooglePlus Hangout does have a max seat limit of 10 active participants (who engage through video conversation), but if the Hangout is launched as a “Hangout On Air” (which is an option, not a requirement), then the event is streamed live online and an unlimited number of viewers can follow along. Additionally, the conversation is automatically recorded and archived to the YouTube Channel of the GooglePlus user who launched the Hangout on Air. Got all that? I know it, it sounds confusing … but it’s not that bad.
I have titled my series Teach & Share, and the premise is quite simple. A Teach & Share has a topic and is a “group” event that I promote openly on my GooglePlus profile. Anyone who has added me to their Circles sees the announcements for the Teach & Share (and I also promote them on my blog). Individuals who are interested in attending may RSVP “yes” to the event notification, and those who do will receive an invitation when the Hangout begins on the scheduled day/time. Those who wish to view the Teach & Share episode are welcome to view it on GooglePlus or on the special page I have created on my blog titled “Hangouts,” where I always embed the live stream of a Hangout On Air I have launched. Here is an archive of my first group Teach & Share, which was a conversation between a group of faculty about Canvas: The Hot, New LMS on the Block. I had been contacted by a variety of faculty who had expressed an interest in learning more about Canvas. This Teach & Share was my effort to facilitate a group conversation around a “hot topic.”
I coordinate individual, one-on-one Teach & Shares with faculty members who are willing to share their teaching tips and strategies. These are archived, creating a repository of searchable ideas. I recently sat down with Deborah Lemon, who shared with me how she uses Facebook, rather than a traditional learning management system, to teach her online Spanish classes. Amazing! What this did was not only create an archive of our conversation but also record Deborah’s tour of her class (with student permission given ahead of time). My hope is that these Teach & Share archives will continue to fill a void for more teaching samples that so many faculty need and offer a space for faculty across the nation (and beyond?) to come together to share their great ideas and lean on each other for support.
Want to read more about my Teach & Shares? Check out Jennifer Funk’s blog post on Edcetera!
Want to join in on a Teach & Share!? My next one is scheduled for Tuesday, Dec 11, 2012, at 3 pm PST / 6pm EST. The topic is Online Learning: The Good, the Bad & the Awesome! Add me to your Circles in GooglePlus to receive the event notification.
Michelle Pacansky-Brock is the author of Best Practices for Teaching with Emerging Technologies, an online community college instructor, a faculty-development specialist, and a doctoral student in Educational Leadership and Management.
Image courteousy of Oana Roxana Birtea, http://www.freedigitalphotos.net.