“Spreadable Media” — How its Relevant to Education

The media industries understand that culture is becoming more participatory, that the rules are being rewritten and relationships between producers and audiences are in flux.” (page 35)


I recently read “Spreadable Media: Creating Value and Meaning in a Networked Culture”.  Its focus (not surprisingly) is social media; how people consume and engage with content via various channels of social media and its effects on business, entertainment and other sectors. It addresses how meaning and value are created from content that is spread; ‘spread’ meaning sharing of content not just between people, but within communities. Content, the authors suggest, is shaped even manipulated throughout the spreading process.

It’s a dense read. The lead author Henry Jenkins, Professor of Communication, Journalism, Cinematic Arts and Education at USC, wrote the book with two digital strategists, Ford and Green. The book aims to “build understanding and conversation among three groups of readers: media scholars, communication professionals, and citizens who actively produce and share media content”. I’d say that there is quite a bit to discuss and not just for those involved in media studies. It’s applicable to education, more so given that social media platforms are used with greater frequency by students and instructors to connect with, consume and create education content.

Several of the book’s sub themes address topics educators and institutions are wrestling with, particularly those offering any form of online education. For instance engagement topic of chapter three—The Value of Media Engagement explores engagement from the perspective of market value, recently a topic of discussion among MOOC providers (Dodd, 2014). Building on the engagement theme, chapter four What Constitutes Meaningful Participation explores the changing relationship between producers and consumers, another parallel to education, as more students seek to be actively involved in a course’s content development—to co-create with instructors and other students. Both chapters offer insight into the issues in context of education, even though authors draw upon examples primarily from the business and entertainment sectors—the applicability is hard to miss.

One discussion in chapter three addresses the behavior known as ‘lurking’, a topic of concern when it comes to MOOCs and online courses. Lurkers are students that typically don’t participate or contribute to asynchronous discussion forums, or engage in a real-time video conferencing sessions or other chat venues, yet are reading and/or watching—they are consuming content. Lurking is viewed negatively, or at least as a challenging behaviour by course instructors. More so in courses that require students to participate for course credit. Lurking in connectivist MOOCs (cMOOCs) also doesn’t go over well, particularly with other MOOC students (Milligan, Littlejohn & Margaryan, 2013). Jenkins, Ford & Green attempt to reframe lurking behaviour. They discuss barriers to online participation and suggest there might be opportunity to scaffold learning, or at scale least levels of participation (p. 158).

The authors portray “lurkers” (the bane of online communities where the vast majority of members who only consume others’ information without contributing any of their own) as only learning and biding their time until they too understand the rules and start to participate. In Chapter 5 they even describe what makes materials sharable. This will help me to completely rethink the development of content rather than just to focus on why community members are either engaged or not.”  T. Sales, Amazon Reviewer of “Spreadable Media”

Startling Parallel: Audience Fragmentation
Authors discuss engagement specific to television audiences, yet the similarity between television consumers and participants in education (particularly those engaging in open learning) is strong.  Beginning on page 116 the authors address the challenges the media industry is facing due to audiences consuming content across multiple channels e.g television, mobile devices, or DVRs. This behaviour, according to the authors, fragments the audience, an audience that traditionally consumed content via one channel—television. The audience has since splintered in response, and the result?— people consuming the same content on a variety channels creating smaller audiences. This fragmentation makes it difficult for providers to gauge the value of the different audience groups—to establish an appropriate pricing model.

Note the similarities to the education sector. Education, at one time used two distribution channels for content, 1) the instructor in a physical location delivering content to student, and 2) the textbook. It’s no longer the case. Today education content has numerous distribution channels, for example open education resources (OER) via the web, MOOC providers, textbook companies, closed, fee-based education platforms, Khan Academy and the likes. These channels suggest a fragmentation of the education sector—similar to what’s happening the media industry. It’s not surprising that MOOC providers are finding it a challenge to settle on a viable business model.

Even among those who understand that developing business models around such engagement is key, there has been little consensus on how, or even which, measures of engagement are valuable or how to agree on a model… (p. 116).

Closing Thoughts 
“Spreadable Media” puts forth several relevant and thought-provoking concepts specific to our digital culture. The book on the surface seems more applicable to business decision makers, marketers and media scholars given the numerous references to marketing and entertainment examples, however, the parallels to education though subtle are striking making it a worthwhile and interesting read.


Three Social Trends That Will Influence Education in 2014

8540717756_396867dbab_cThere are patterns within the trend predictions for 2014 that are worthy of paying attention to. There is strong, if not overwhelming evidence that behaviour patterns of students, educators, employees and professionals are moving towards the use of social tools for learning, working and teaching. Collaborating seamlessly face-to-face and at a distance, bringing the human element to virtual interactions, and personalized learning will prevail in 2014; each facilitated by technology. But it’s not going to be about the technology, it will be about making connections by voice and/or visual, contributing to new knowledge, and learning with and from others—all mediated through social media. It will be the behaviours of students, lifelong learners and educators—their use of technology, specifically social media applications that will influence education in the upcoming year.

To date there have been a handful of predictions made by business and education entities about trends that will impact education in 2014; of the few there are common themes. What dominates is the idea that social media will serve users’ [employees, students, educators, administrators, etc.] needs for getting their work done (whatever that may be)—seamlessly and virtually.

Sources for Social Trends Affecting Education in 2014
The following post delves into the three social trends and the influence each will have on education sector. The sources chosen for this article are few, but solid (and are listed at the end of the post). The majority are from the education sector. The NMC Horizon Report: 2014 Education Edition Wiki for example, provides excellent insight into educational technology trends for 2014 (and is an interesting read). The majority of the content used for the Horizon Report published each year is generated in this wiki where education experts exchange ideas and engage in discourse. An article from the Nov/Dec 2013 EDUCAUSE Review provided yet another viewpoint on social media in education, suggesting that media ‘is coming of age’. Collectively the sources mentioned here, and the events of the past year provide a window into what we can expect in 2014.

The Three Social Trends 

images1)  Collaborating seamlessly whether at a distance or face-to-face, without technological barriers to get in the way is becoming a reality for professionals, students and educators, and will be integral to the education experience. With the selection of free and numerous high quality applications, and with a record of conversations and work stored ‘in the cloud‘, projects are available to access anytime, from any device. Google docs for example, allows several individuals to collaborate on one document; notes can be made, audio feedback incorporated, and team members can chat in real-time while editing the doc. Collaboration done remotely or within institutions is becoming synonymous with working and learning. Even more of a driving force for teamwork and creating knowledge though, is our current culture which embraces a global mindset. Collaboration today is becoming a necessity, not a nice-to-do.

Over the next year, students will drive the collaboration movement forward through peer projects, virtual study groups, and self-directed learning via their personal networks, though educators shouldn’t be far behind. One unexpected yet positive side effect of the MOOC phenomenon for some institutions, has been the positive outcomes from the collaborative experience among faculty members and institutional staff within and outside the institution. As a recent article in Forbes states, the silo mentality is challenged by social media—it’s not just about social anymore, it’s about creating something that reflects diversity.

 “Social is no longer just about collaboration. Social today is enabling businesses to break down organizational and hierarchical silos and barriers. It’s providing employees an opportunity to share knowledge and locate expertise.”  Forbes

The article in EDUCAUSE as mentioned earlier describes how social media tools are becoming viable methods for education endeavors.

“Social media tools will continue to evolve and flourish because they are not so much about the platform as they are about the content and about the credibility of the individuals producing and sharing the content.”  EDUCAUSE

2)  Humanizing interactions in online learning, meetings, presentations and classroom learning is an unmet need, soon to be addressed by the many new and improved synchronous and asynchronous tools. The lack of a ‘human touch’ has long been a criticism of online learning, but now as tools get better and the cost barrier falls, the ability to connect face-to-face virtually is becoming a reality in education, and will only expand over time as the comfort levels with the technology increases among educators. Tools used for synchronous chat and video conversations are Google+ Hangouts, FaceTime, WhatsApp, and Skype to name a few. It seems that students seek not only a connection with faculty and peers, but want a humanized experience, including personal feedback, especially in online learning. Asynchronous interaction (not in real-time) that is facilitated through other programs and applications, such as applications that record audio and video, are much improved and conducive to providing students with audio feedback. Learning Management platforms (LMS) also have improved substantially, many include robust tools for asynchronous communication.

Face-to-face interaction will not disappear; though as one educator stated in the New Horizon wiki, educators will need to create meaningful and rich experiences when  teaching in face-to-face environments. Lectures that are a one-way mode of communicating content will be a thing of the past. “I think this means that we simply need to make our face-to-face interaction more meaningful”, Sam in response to the notion that digital delivery will be the norm resulting in less face-to-face interaction.” NMC Horizon Report: 2014 Education Edition Wiki

Selection of Humanizing Tools

  • SlideKlowd an application that captures audience attention levels and incorporates audience feedback
  • Google Docs – Directions on how to incorporate audio feedback for student assignments
  • Twitter for Education, Center for Instruction & Research Technology, University of North Florida

3) Personalizing learning experiences where learners are taking control of their learning, not relying upon institutions or companies for providing education and/or vocational development they want and need, is just beginning—in 2014 the movement will continue. This applies to graduate students, educators seeking professional development, professionals, employees in the workplace, and life-long learners. The growth of MOOC platforms and Mozilla Badges, along with the ability to record and document alternative learning through various platformsLinked In, Degreed, for example, demonstrates how life-long learners are taking charge and engaging with education via social media, as well as using it for documenting and sharing.

“With the explosion of web 2.0 and social media tools and the integration of these tools into learning, it is no longer sustainable, economical, nor logical to leverage an internal faculty development staff to develop training resources for these technologies and train local faculty” Eva, NMC Horizon Report: 2014 Education Edition Wiki

globe_mouseProfessional development for educators will shift to a personalized approach, where educators build a personal network using social media tools, connect and collaborate virtually with other educators to fulfill their own learning needs.

There is much discussion among educators about how effective undergraduate students are at self-directed learning; how capable are young adults who don’t know what they don’t know? This point is debatable. However an emerging trend in undergraduate education is what might be called ‘alternative learning’, where the learner gets to choose his or her own learning path based upon their interests. Many readers may be familiar with the UnCollege program, which I wrote about last year. There are many variations of the ‘uncollege’ learning path, and this too will grow over time, however, this is another trend to cover in another post.

Though we can predict and make an educated guess what the year 2014 will hold for education, we won’t really know until we are in it—knee deep. The year 2012 named by the New York Times as the Year-of-the-MOOC, shook the foundations of education, and no one saw it coming. Will social media influence education by increasing collaboration, humanize the learning experience, and support personalized learning in 2014? Time will tell.


Image Credit: Social learning, MKHMarketing Flickr creative commons

The End of ‘School’ as Usual…

… a new breed of consumer [student] is emerging – and they’re changing the very foundation of business [school]. Brian Solis

Applying business principles to academia at one time was taboo. Mentioning terms such as return on investment (ROI), customer focus, target market, would be met with blank looks – the deer-in-the-headlights syndrome. I can vouch for this. When I transitioned from a corporate environment to an educational one several years ago, I sensed that the business way of doing things was not quite fitting. However that mindset is becoming passé. Colleges now appear pressured to become more business like, to sell themselves. As a result many are employing sizeable marketing departments and hiring executives from Fortune 500 companies to do it for them (Glazer and Korn, 2012) and well, acting like a business.

Along with these developments, we’re beginning to see more and more business like discussions in the media about higher education. What will happen to education when these terms become the new buzzwords? In this post I’ll share why school is coming to an end as we know it and, more importantly what educators can do about it.

What does this mean for Educators?
What might the collision of two worlds – business and education mean for educators? Should we be concerned?  A week ago I would have said no. But since reading Brian Solis’ latest book, The End of Business as Usual, Rewire the way You work to Succeed in the Consumer Revolution, I’m not so sure. From the inside jacket cover of the book

The End of Business as Usual explores each layer of this complex consumer revolution that is changing the future of business, media and culture. As consumers connect with one another, a vast and efficient information network takes shape and begins to steer experiences, decisions, and markets. It is nothing short of disruptive. (Solis, 2012)

End of School as Usual
As I was reading the book I found myself nodding in agreement in several places. I began to highlight key points. As I read more, I started making notes. I soon realized that a vast number of the [business] principles Solis wrote about applied to education.

The End of Business as Usual, Rewire the way you work to succeed in the consumer Revolution could just as well be titled The End of School as Usual, Rewire the way you work to Succeed in the Student Revolution.

The concepts that Solis presents in his book speak to recent changes in consumer behaviors that are driven primarily by social media and 24/7 Web access. Though Solis’ audience is businesses, I realized these worlds are coming together. Education, business and social places are becoming one massive intertwined network. Students, customers, educators are no longer working and communicating within silos. Learning is not confined to a physical place, the school building any longer.  ‘Business’ is not confined to one place either. And certainly socializing is not confined to coffee shops, parties or F2F gatherings.

These changes are having a drastic impact on business and education. Below I’ve summarized just a few key ideas that Solis discusses that illustrate why the end of school as usual is just around the corner.

  • Digital Darwinism: Controlling your way to Obsolescence: The web is creating a network that is influencing society, resulting in a new global culture. The effect of connected consumers [or students] reverberates across markets and societies online and offline. Solis states that consumers are becoming connected to one another like never before. The connectedness (sound familiar? Think Stephen Downes connectivism) creates ‘customer centricity’, which is at the heart of Solis calls for – an adaptive business model (page 13).
  • Social Networks as Your Personal Operating System (OS):  Facebook or other social platforms began as social networks, but have become places where people connect and live. Billions of people  on a daily basis will meet, discuss, share, chat and interact online. Solis suggests that if businesses fail to adapt to this phenomenon, they will become irrelevant (pages 20 – 21). We know what happens next. Educational institutions need to stay relevant.
  • Adaptive Business Models: Uniting Customers [students] and Employees [faculty, administration] to Build the Businesses [schools] of Tomorrow, Today:  Reading chapter 18 [title above] really hit it home. Solis states that “businesses must start to construct a unified experience that addresses needs of all consumers, online and offline” (page 245). I suggest this statement is relevant for Higher Ed if we replace the word consumers with stakeholders. I believe one of the divisive issues facing Higher Ed institutions today is online learning and how it fits, or doesn’t fit in with traditional education. The battle rages on.

My favorite story that Solis shares in his book is about Dell computers. As part of the redesign of Dell’s strategy after nearly going bankrupt in 2006, Dell created a ‘social media listening command center’. This center manages the inflow of customer communication across social media channels providing service accordingly (page 263).  Imagine if a college had a ‘social media learning command center’? Sign me up for that job.

So What? What can educators DO about it?
What can we do, really?  Of course it depends on where you are working, and at what level, but I do believe we can do something about it. We can create a new school as usual. Below are my suggestions.

  • Create a small group of colleagues to discuss ‘change in education’. Perhaps a weekly lunch meeting for one month.  Suggest a relevant topic to explore and discuss each week.
  • Participate in a MOOC. If you have yet to experience a MOOC, enroll in one as a student.  Invite other colleagues to join you.
  • Enroll in the Current/Future State of Higher Education, an open and online course (MOOC).
  • Keep the learning outcomes in mind. It is not the learning outcomes that need to change – but it is how we get there.
  • Be adaptable.
  • Be responsive.
  • Become an agent of change OR a supporter of the change agent.
  • Ask questions that challenge the status quo. What would happen if…

So much to think about and so little time. Yet change is just around the corner – it’s coming whether we are ready or not. It can choke us or it can challenge and invigorate. Change can create something new and better. It does not have to be the end, but a start to something new and great.

Brian Solis, Books
Current/Future State of Higher Education, An Open Online Course
Marketing Pros: Big Brand On Campus, WSJ, E. Glazer and M. Korn
Blackboard Inc.: The Rise of the New “Online Learning” and the Race for Profits, Jim Farmer, e-Literate

Photo Credits:
End. By mrjoro’s photo stream on Flickr.
Digital Darwinism. By Brian Solis on Flickr.
Earthshot New Beginning. Jusni Nasirun on Flickr.

Power of the ‘Profile Pic’ in Online Learning

Meeting someone with a paper bag over his or her head is a disconcerting experience – conversing with this person can be downright alarming. Trying to carry a meaningful conversation through a thick piece of paper is … awkward. The likelihood of creating any kind of relationship with our masked friend is about nil. I draw this parallel to illustrate how learners might feel in an online learning classroom where there is no visual, or even voice representation of fellow students – which I suggest is a serious barrier to learning. In my own experience as a graduate student in online classes using Blackboard as the learning platform, though there was the capability of uploading pics to a profile, this feature was not utilized. Hence, the  connection I made with peers was primarily through discussion forums, and though we used our names, I found it one-dimensional, impersonal. I had a hard time recognizing classmates in subsequent classes. Working in groups too was impersonal, however in the instances a group used Skype, the experience was far more engaging and personal. Though I would be remiss if I didn’t’ state the truth, that for the most part once involved in discussions that were engaging, interesting and even controversial, this ‘identify’ barrier did disappear to an extent, yet I yearned for the visual.

Social Media is ‘Social’ with the Profile Pic
As I’ve written about in previous posts, social presence is a critical aspect of online learning, and if we consider similar online communities, for example Twitter and Facebook, we do find visual representation [profile pic] is part of the social process. Socializing or the act being social, involves and requires an element of self-disclosure or self presentation, before engagement and involvement with others can occur – which rationalizes why Social Media facilitates self-presentation through the oh-so-familiar profile picture.

Social Media Building Blocks
In a recently published paper, Social media? Get serious! Understanding the functional building blocks of social media, the authors suggest a framework for understanding social media platforms. The framework includes seven functional building blocks which are: identity, conversations, sharing, presence, relationships, reputation, and groups, all of which contribute to making it ‘work’ in the virtual world  (Kietzman et al., 2011). The authors suggest that companies interested in developing a social media community emphasize certain building blocks over others depending upon their objectives. For example, Facebook emphasizes ‘sharing’ and LinkedIn ‘reputation’, however, identity and presence are common to all. The implications for education are significant nonetheless, as discussed below.

Why Learning Needs Identify
I suggest that any online learning community, require participants to use a profile picture or image to satisfy the ‘identify’ element. Social presence is required for learners to feel comfortable to engage in dialogue with their peers and instructor(s), and to participate in actively in learning, which ultimately creates the foundation for the learner to use critical thinking skills, and construct knowledge.

To illustrate the point of how identify is perceived online – humour me and look at the image below. What do you think when viewing this profile image – perhaps as a recommended ‘friend‘ for you to befriend on Facebook?

Exactly – in most cases the perception is (whether correct or not) that individuals with empty or generic profiles such as the one above, does not use Facebook on a regular basis, are not actively engaged, and are not ‘present.  Do you see the connection?  This person has a paper bag over his head (or hers).

I’m an advocate for making learning social – which begins with learners establishing an identify, a personal profile. However, by using the terms social and learning in the same sentence, I am not suggesting that learning be fluffy, without rigor or shy’s away using critical thinking skills. But, in order that learning and education appear relevant to today’s learners, we need to get-with-the program and incorporate social media components that we use everyday into our learning platforms. Suggestions:

  • Moodle has the capability for uploading profile pics – I suggest educators use it. We use Moodle at our workplace, and though we don’t mandate that students upload profile pics, we strongly suggest it. As a result about 75% of students upload an ‘identify’.
  • Same goes for Blackboard – use the profile features!
  • Check out Pearson’s Open Class [still in Beta] which features a Facebook like interface – making it appear relevant and current.
  • Create a Facebook School Group through Facebook’s platform.
  • Encourage use of  Google + Hangouts, Skype, Elluminate Live for collaborative group work.

These are only a few suggestions – there are many other tools to bring online learning to life, create an identify, and make it personal for students in order that deep, authentic learning happens.

Kietzman et al. 2011. Social media? Get serious! Understanding the functional building blocks of social media, ScienceDirect.com

Do we Need Social Butterflies in Online Learning?, OnlinelearningInsights

Webinar Round-Up: Get thinking out of the Box…

I find Webinars [web based seminars] a tremendous, efficient and effective way to stretch my thinking beyond the ‘normal’ parameters that I work within day-to-day, kick-start my creativity and learn something new that often leads to novel way to approach a project. Usually only an hour-long, often for free, [and with a web-enabled device], Webinars allow you to log on and listen to an expert in a given field [social media, leadership and education which I’ll focus on in this post] ask questions through chat and learn about a new topic, technology or perspective. As part of my own personal development, my goal is to participate in one Webinar a month on a topic that might be related to my work though often is not. In this post I’ll share some upcoming Webinars around the Web that may be of interest.

Below I’ve listed upcoming sessions in May and June that look interesting –  in a previous post, I explained the ins and outs of Webinars, with some tips for maximizing their effectiveness, if interested, click here.

The Culture Cycle: How to Shape the Unseen Force that Transforms Performance, Sponsored by Harvard Business Review. Date: May 21.  No cost. The host is one of Harvard’s esteemed professor’s James Heskett who will discuss his new book Culture Cycle, describe how culture evolves, is shaped and sustained, fosters innovation, and can promote organizational survival in tough times. Click here for further details.

Conversations in Leadership. Sponsored by Skillsoft. Date: June 6. No cost. Author  Shawn Achor, former professor of Harvard University, has extensively researched the elusive concept of ‘happiness’ and in this webinar discusses his findings in his new book, The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work.  Though this webinar is free, it is promoted by Skillsoft company, likely for leads for new business. Click here for further details.

In Conversation with Jay Cross: Social Business takes Social Learning. Sponsored by Social Learning Centre. No cost with free membership to the Social Learning Centre. Hosted by Jane Hart and facilitated by Jay Cross, author, educator, who is considered “the Johnny Appleseed of informal learning”. Jay has challenged conventional wisdom about how adults learn since designing the first business degree program offered by the University of Phoenix. A champion of informal learning and systems thinking. Click here for further details.

Social Media
Using Social Media to Support Workplace Learning, featuring Jane Hart (a leader in social media for professionals and educators, founder of Social Learning Centre a terrific network that offers free resources and insights into emerging tools and technologies). Sponsored by eLearning Guild. Date: Fee based. June 12. In this session, listen and discuss with Jane Hart about her experiences in, ideas about, and predictions for using social media to support workplace learning. Click here for further details.

Managing Traditional and Social Media for Libraries. Sponsored by the Public Library Association. No cost.  Date: May 31. This session, geared to the media library media specialist, will discuss the fundamentals of media planning and outreach, social media, and skills required to promote library activities and advocacy efforts.  Click here for further details.

Higher Education
Meeting Today’s Workforce Education Challenges. Sponsored by Pearson Learning Solutions. No cost. Date: May 31. The Webniar’s host, Pat Gerity, is VP of Workforce Education at Westmoreland College in PA,  and appears to have extensive experience in  transitioning college students into the workforce. Click here for more info.

Captioning for Lecture Capture. Campus technology. Sponsored by Campus Technology and Tegrity, McGraw Hill. June 5. No Cost.  Click here for further details.

Improving Student Engagement Through Early Career Mapping. Sponsored by EDweek. Date: May 22.  No Cost. Click here for further details.

How States use Digital Learning to support Education Reform. iNacol (International Association for K12 Online Learning).  Date: June 13. Members $39, Non-members $99. In a report from Illinois State Board of Education, co-authors Dr. Tom Clark and Dr.  E. Oyer explore the changing landscape of education reform and technology programs to develop and sustain innovation. Click here for further details.

Empowering School Cultures to Support all students. Sponsored by Edweek. Date: June 5. No cost.  Education author and speaker Alan M. Blankstein, will discuss how to create and build resourceful and confident school cultures. Click here for further details.

Beyond LMS Boundaries: Web 2.0 Enriching Online Learning and Assessment. Sponsored by iNACOL  (International Association for K-12 Online Learning). Date: June 21. Fee based. Click here for further details.

Learning Management Platforms
Haiku, Learning Management Platform. Learn about this K-12 LMS platform with webniars offered every Tuesday and Thursday. Click here for further details.

The Flipped Classroom. Sponsored by Sophia, Learning Management Platform. May 22, and June 12. Click here for further details.

The Moodle Gradebook. Moodle Rooms. Date: May 30. Click here for further details.


Photo Credit: Tic-Tac-Toe, Think outside Box, by ArtJonak