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Business 2.0, Social media & networking, Software & web applications

Where should we (virtually) meet?

Recently I had occasion to kick of an interesting and inspiring dialogue with some colleagues and friends around the idea of digital making (a subject that, for those of you that know me from my time with the IDX Initiative, is close to my heart).

One of the things we were discussing/thinking about is how the recent changes to the school curriculum to include coding (one of the more positive developments, among plenty of not so good bits) will have a big impact on teachers. I suspect many will be thrust into a position where they need to pick these ideas and concepts up quickly, and conversely that the resources currently available are not yet at a standard to meet their needs.1

Having had the privilege of meeting a bunch of digital makers2, and had some great conversations with teachers wanting to engage in these sorts of activities, I felt it would be useful to connect these two groups, and using “off the shelf” social networking tools seemed to make the most sense.

What seemed like a “no brainer” raised some interesting questions for me around social network tools and how we engage with them.

Problem #1: Which space?

So a put the call out to a few folks and suggested Slack, which we’ve recently adopted for our team comms. Some folks mentioned that they were experiencing “app fatigue” and didn’t want yet another network/app to download check.

It struck me that a few years ago we didn’t have many options to work with if we were starting out—there were Yahoo! and (now defunct) Google Groups. There was Ning. And possibly a few others that I’ve forgotten.

Now we have Asana, Basecamp, Trello, Slack,, Google+/Hangouts, LinkedIn Groups and Facebook… feel free to remind me of the 10+ I’ve missed ;). Now we’re seemingly spoilt for choice. Which brings with it its own paradox, of course.

Some of these are paid offerings, and each has its strength/targeted at different markets/purposes—an artefact, perhaps, of the drive for focus exponents of Lean Startup principles (of which I am one) are always espousing.

Problem #2: Boundary definition

Suggestions were made, including using Facebook.

I realised that I had a strong feeling against using Facebook for this kind of purpose. And, as someone who’s been using social media for a very long time (and many of my friends/colleagues would consider an early adopter/power user) I was surprised by my response.

The reason? I’ve largely maintained Facebook as my personal/private space. In one brief exchange with a collaborator in the group, I noted:

“I don’t like potential collaborators and clients knowing that I’m having a weekend away with my wife and what wine I’m enjoying etc.

“Plus I find the noise there is tremendous—I get dozens of notifications daily from ex-high school folks and other random stuff that makes it hard for work-related things to cut through.

“And I need to keep it on to connect with people socially outside of hours, so I don’t get the opportunity to switch off.”

(For this particular group, I’d also suggest there’s a pragmatic consideration of Facebook being blocked for many teachers—but it’s this personal response that I wanted to explore.)

I realised that recently I’ve been less disciplined in keeping Facebook to my personal connections, in part because of increasing requests from work-related colleagues to be friends. And I also realised, during the exchange, that I’m not comfortable with that. I’m reconsidering my personal practice as a result—i.e. I think I’ll direct any future Facebook requests to LinkedIn or something…

What to do?

So, this isn’t a blog post presenting a solution (sorry)…

For someone who is not well-versed in the space, the choice is potentially overwhelming, and it’s not always clear/obvious which we should be using. (Heck, as the above indicates it can be a challenge even for those of us that are well-versed!)

But for those of us that are strongly digital connected, it can be overwhelm of a different kind: We’re always on (and expected to be). We’re having to juggle 17 bazillion different apps daily, depending on where the conversation is happening.

I don’t know there’s an easy answer. Sticking to personal boundaries is a start (but not always possible). But I suppose I wanted to reflect on some of the challenges of actively working out loud.

In this particular instance, I’m concerned that we’ll lose momentum in a nascent initiative if we choose the “wrong” tool (i.e. the one that feels like “yet another app”, rather than “a place I’m already at”).

All this begs a few questions for me—specifically, how do other folks:

  • Determine which space is the right space, when there’s no “clear” answer or disagreement within a group?
  • Balance personal/social with the professional in these types of interactions?

I’m really interested to hear other’s perspectives and experiences…


Note 1:

I have a suspicion, based on conversations with friends in the teaching profession, that there’ll be a number of teachers being thrust into a position where they have to learn a raft of new concepts and tools to support this shift. I wondered what we might be able to do to make this transition easier, and if there were opportunities to support teachers in applying digital making—things like MIT Scratch, open-source hardware like Arduino and robotics (the Meet Edison project is just one, neat, example)—to improve the experience for students.

Such “making” technology has emerged from a bevy of tinkerers and hobbyists—often content to “hack” away and find their own path through a raft of sporadically produced documentation (often snippets of conversations in discussion groups dotted across the web). This is one of the strengths of the movement—the diversity of ideas and applications in a variety of contexts, very much reflecting the idea of “Small, Local, Open, Connected”. However, for teachers that are not used to or familiar with the space, I think this will mean they lean on less engaging and more traditional models of teaching which will impact students’ enthusiasm for digital tech. I’m yet to dive in deeply, but in my (admittedly limited) research to date there’s not huge amounts of “pick up and run” type materials for teachers to use (MIT Scratch notwithstanding).

Note 2:

Recently I’ve been become aware of, or connected to, a number of practitioners who have been working in this space for a while (Code Club, Makers Empire, friends and colleagues like Mel Fuller at ThreeFarm and Joy Suliman at Irresistible Learning, the crew at The Edge in Brisbane, as well as the IDX Initiative. I also recently met James Zaki who is behind Cyclearn, and Dan Zwolenski who is connected to CodeCamp (among others).

As someone who had limited support growing up in exploring my passions in technology, especially electronics (i.e. the hardware side), this is all really exciting! And I’m keen to see these folks connecting with teachers as I think it’s a real win-win-win: for the teachers, to ease the burden of getting up to speed; for the practitioners to develop both non-commercial and commercial opportunities around their passions; for the students to get a more engaging experience to develop their skills, ideas and respond to their own imaginations in practical ways.

IMAGE CREDIT: Moelock—Social Media 0.1

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