Sunday 2 August 2015
I was invited recently by Chris Evans (Brunel University) Jennifer Killham, (University of Cincinnati, USA), on the recommendation of Steve Wheeler to give a keynote at the annual eLearning 2.0 Conference at Brunel University in London. This was exciting on two counts - one the invitation itself to keynote and two that Steve had put forward my name. I then discovered the second keynote was Mark Childs. I'd met Mark at a previous conference and have a huge respect for his work. I felt both honored and in awe at being billed alongside Mark.
Dr Mark Childs is a freelance academic, working for several universities and learning organisations in the UK, USA, South Africa and Croatia. Since 1997 he has worked on nearly 40 technology-supported learning projects as an evaluator, manager and principal investigator, predominantly in synchronous online communication. In parallel to this he has had posts in academic development at Wolverhampton, Warwick, Coventry and Worcester Universities as well as running staff development sessions in Singapore, Oman and Ethiopia. His PhD in Education in 2010 was on learners’ experiences of presence in virtual worlds and he has written and edited several books in this field.
Now whilst this was not my first keynote, a feeling of self doubt enters your mind when faced with preparing a 30 minute talk followed by 15 minutes questions. What if my talk doesn't appeal to the audience? What if I pitch it wrong? Will the audience gain anything from what I say? Will it align with the conference theme and others interpretation of this?
The theme of eLearning 2.0 Conference (2015) was “The Paradigm Shift: Refocusing on the Student”. This educational paradigm shift is fuelled by the unprecedented access that students now have to information coupled with a view of learning as a constructive process consisting of selecting, organising and integrating information. Sessions in the conference programme aimed to explore both technology-enhanced learning and social media technologies. With this information I explored online identities and the discord between social and professional.
My talk commenced with an activity that got all the delegates on their feet with the instruction to turn to the person in front or behind them and 60 seconds each to shake hands and introduce themselves, stating who they were and what they did. Such introductions are carried out many times as we meet new people in work and social situations, and yet online many do not make good use of the space there is to introduce themselves by writing an informative bio. Online we do not have the same visual cues we have when talking face to face. To be effective communicators online our messages need to be clear, and consideration needs to be given to our 'online voice'. Just as we learnt that emailing in capitals is akin to shouting, we need to develop our communication skills in social networking spaces.
My talk went on to consider the blurring boundaries of professional and social communication, the importance of building an online reputation and developing a professional digital presence. Leading by example ensures that as educators we can go on to help our students build their online presence and see the value of digital connections, in preparation for placements and attaining graduate jobs. I shared examples of giving students the opportunity to interpret guidance on 'managing your digital footprint' and 'using social media responsibly', by creating short animations and films. Such artifacts not only help the students creating them to develop a range of skills, they are items that can be included in their own digital portfolios. The film clips can also be used as discussion points with other students and indeed colleagues.
Question time after my talk was vibrant and continued into the coffee break and even over lunch. I was reassured that there is much yet to talk about this topic and by having these shared conversations we can start to tease out insecurities and worries relating to digital connectedness and look at how we can make more of this in a professional context for mutual benefit.
The conference was billed as a collaborative space for educators, students, researchers, entrepreneurs, and policy makers to share their eLearning classroom successes, as well as new developments in their research and the workplace. Delegates were not disappointed and there were plentiful opportunities to network and chat between sessions. The event had a welcoming and inclusive atmosphere - credit to the wonderful organisers Chris and Jennifer.