Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Small talk leads to big things?

BBC NEWS | Magazine | 'Nice day today, isn't it?': "The weather is a good ice-breaker because in the UK it's so unpredictable and it's common to all of us, says Ros Taylor, who works with companies to encourage people to talk to each other. If you're stuck, look around you - if you're in a queue then talk about queues.

'We often imagine that conversations have to be clever and witty and shattering in their perceptiveness but all we want to do is bond and have a chat and make the time pass more quickly.'"

Hmmmm... interesting stuff! Well, interesting in a 'yeah, I knew that... but it's nice to hear someone else say that' kinda way.

Was just thinking about how this relates to education in general. I think so often that people worry about the academic worth of things and the need to say the right thing at the right time etc... but I also think that if you don't give people the chance to just start talking, then you're never going to be able to move into those deeper areas of discussion. I suppose this is why things like Twitter and other services like that have value. They allow you to have a presence without needing to make your presence felt (if that makes sense). If you've never publicly shared any piece of writing, telling someone they need to participate in a group wiki or post reflective blog entries is a massive barrier to engagement... and I think that sometimes we concentrate too much on the possible benefits once people are on board and forget about how to get them there in the first place.

Here's an example: I read a newsletter today on the progress of an institutional VLE... and the only mention of any real use by end users, i.e. students and tutors came in a short section on the back page. It's as if we've forgotten that it's wonderful to have all of these opportunities available, but unless we open the door properly to let people use them (and understand their use) then they're just trinkets behind a glass window. Lovely to look at, but never touched. Lots and lots of talk about the possibilities for collaboration, the offline and online capabilities, the new opportunity for the other, the this... the that. But... where's the voice of the users?? Hardly the stuff of Wisdom of Crowds if we're only ever listening to the exerts and don't hear a diversity of opinions.

Now, I know this was an in-house newsletter... but if I'm A.N.Other Tutor sitting at home thinking 'VLE? Who cares? I just want to get on with my teaching'... this sort of thing seems no more than a meaningless technological pat on the back. Where are the case studies? Where's the information which guides people to effective practice? Where's the evidence of real, tangible benefit other than administrative monitoring capacity?

Opening the conversation small can lead to big things. Start with big messages about all the capabilities, capacities and affordances a system can have... and the small, but vitally important, voices will be lost.

Here endeth the rambles of the 'should be doing something else' mind... :o)

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