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Keyword: ‘lurkers’

Listening for the silences and absences

March 31st, 2010
Yesterday Jennifer and I met (in person, wow!) to talk about our AERA paper. We’ve yet to start actually writing “the paper”, although we already have many pieces of writing that represent stepping stones towards it. As we said we’d do in our original research announcement, we’ve been blogging little micro-chunks of our data analysis and emerging thinking/questions along the way, hoping that some of our readers and shiftingthinking community members would respond with their own thoughts, responses, questions, challenges, reflections, arguments, anecdotes. We’ve already received a number of very insightful responses and Jennifer and I have really appreciated the additional ideas/perspectives you’ve offered. Soon we’ll decide how we’re going to weave all of these threads, ideas, and conversations together into a paper that bears a decent semblance to the paper plan we originally submitted to AERA last year.

Desert Oasis (c) Rachel Bolstad, 2007

(I actually think we’re pretty close, but it reminds me of something someone once told me about writing a thesis: It’s like a mirage of a desert oasis – the closer you get, the further away it seems….)!! 

Yesterday when we were talking about the exchanges and dialogues between yourselves and us through the blogs and comments, we returned to that old question about who’s not commenting, who’s not participating in these conversations. To illustrate, in her last posting, dark and disruptive methodologies, Jennifer talked about some areas/questions that various of us (within our team of educational researchers) have found the most uneasy and unsettling when it comes to the purposes and implications of this shiftingthinking space (or as she phrased it, “the ways that blog spaces like this one could be a disruptive and potentially frightening innovation in the world of educational research”). 

Jennifer reflected yesterday that when these kinds of issues are raised in the blog, the people who tend to comment are often those who (perhaps like me) tend to take a fairly optimistic/confident stance, which goes something like this: “even if we don’t know for sure exactly what this new thinking and collaboration space will lead to, nor do we yet fully understand it’s implications (either positive, negative, or simply different) for the ways we think about education, learning, research, and so on, well, there are plenty of good theories and research to support the notion that we ought to be at least trying to work in this way, and as long as we keep thinking and talking about what we are doing, we’ll work the tricky things out together along the way, and this is all good learning, and unexpected things may emerge, and that’s all just part of it and it’s nothing to be too afraid of, and that’s just the way a learning community ought to operate”. 

Maurice and Mary’s recent comments also helped to pull us back from becoming overly stuck in a solipsistic “researcher” perspective. Commenting from their own positionings, their comments suggested pulling our focus back to the interactions within a community of learners/educators/researchers – as Maurice suggested “We probably could all learn from sharing narratives as explorations, not positioning ourselves as teachers, learners or researchers, but as all of these.” 

So - back to the conversation that Jennifer and I were having yesterday: We wondered, once again, what do the people who aren’t participating in this online conversation think? What arguments/critiques/theories/evidence is not being presented within our ongoing learning conversation? As researchers we’re used to the idea that the voices we don’t hear are usually the ones that have something different to say. I’ve long been very interested in the silences and absences in this blog/community (longtime readers might remember some of my earlier postings about lurkers). It seems there all kinds of reasons why people don’t comment/participate. Some of the most common ones, I think, include: 

  • I don’t visit shiftingthinking, or don’t check it regularly.
  • I’m not interested in the discussions/ideas here.
  • Blogging is a waste of time. Doing things on the Internet is not real work.
  • I’m too busy/I don’t have enough time (either to read the blog, or to respond to the blog)
  • I can’t see the purpose, I need a more relevant purpose for participating in this site.
  • I like reading the blog but I’m not interested in responding to it.
  • I would like to say something, but don’t quite know how to say it (i.e. composing a response is too hard or time-consuming).
  • I would like to say something, but don’t feel it is worthy of posting (i.e. I don’t think my ideas are well-enough expressed, or I am uncertain about my ideas, or I’m afraid that I might be criticized or held to account for the things I post, or I’d rather not share my ideas publicly at this stage because I haven’t thought them through fully enough).

There are probably other resaons, and for most of our silent/absent friends and colleagues, a combination of these reasons are probably at play. I’m also not saying that everyone has to participate, and I’m certainly not having a go at the lurkers (honest, I still love you, lurkers!). I’m completely aware that it does take time and thought to put together something in writing – much more than, say, participating in a discussion with us at a conference – and that just seems to be part of the territory of this particular medium.  And I can also [grudgingly] accept the fact that perhaps the topics and threads on this blog might not be of interest to that many people in the world! 

Still, we’ve had many occasions where people have chosen to email us, or talk to us at conferences or in the kitchen or tearoom about something from the ShiftingThinking site, rather than posting their thoughts on the site. I can imagine lots of perfectly good reasons why people would opt to take their conversations with us into these more “private” spaces rather than the truly public space of shiftingthinking.org. 

However, it is useful (and important) for us to notice the silences and absences here, and we can’t help but speculate as to what those silent and absent voices and perspectives might say in reference to some of the challenging questions and tensions we’ve been discussing?

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Look, I drew a picture of you!

July 17th, 2009

(Yes, that’s right…I’m talking to you!)
Actually, I should say I drew a picture of us.

See? You, and me, and everyone else – we’re all represented in my diagram of the shiftingthinking community.

The Power Law Distribution

I drew this after reading Here Comes Everybody: The power of organizing without organizations by Clay Shirky. The book has influenced my thinking A LOT recently and I reckon I’ll probably write a few more blogpostings based on its ideas. In this posting I just want to share just one of these ideas, because I’ve been thinking about you a lot lately (No, don’t look over your shoulder, I’m still talking to Y-O-U ), and I want to show you exactly how you fit into this shiftingthinking community.

The curve in this diagram represents something called a “Power Law Distribution”, which I learned about in Here Comes Everybody. The vertical axis represents the number of comments posted on shiftingthinking, and the horizontal axis represents all of us, lined up in left to right order from the highest frequency to the lowest frequency of postings. What this curve shows is that the most frequent contributor (in this case, me) posts many times more often than the next most frequent contributors, and those people post many times more often than the next most frequent, and so on, and then we have this l-o-o-o-oong tail of people who contribute just a tiny little bit – let’s say, one comment or posting.  (Then there’s the folks who we sometimes call “lurkers”, who read shiftingthinking but haven’t posted comments – I’ll get back to them later…)

So what, I hear you ask? Is there a point to all this? Well I’m glad you asked, because there is, and here is the EXCITING bit. According to Shirky, this same distribution pattern is found in all kinds of social media. Wikipedia is a good example: Although anyone can edit wikipedia pages, it turns out that there are a tiny percentage of people who make hundreds or thousands of edits each, and thousands and millions of people who only ever make say, one or two edits (and millions more who simply read wikipedia entries without ever making a single edit). So if you graph wikipedia contributions, you’ll get an even more extreme version of this same curve.

The power law distribution is also called The Pareto principle or the “80-20 rule” which basically says that for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. So this distribution shape isn’t just limited to social media – it appears in all kinds of social phenomenon.

The cool thing – and the point of this posting -  is when we start to ask ourselves what value we get out of the collective contributions of all 100 percent of the contributors. In the business world, the 80-20 principle suggests that organisations should focus on the 20 percent (of people, activities, projects etc) that contribute 80 percent of the “productivity”. The “costs” of carrying that long tail, which tends to generate proportionally less, can be hard for an organisation to carry. But if you lop off the long tail, you lose out on all those potential contributions that, when added to the collective, could add up to something really great.

Is this youThe nice thing about social media is that there is really no “cost” involved in encouraging as many people as possible to contribute. By opening up wikipedia to everyone to edit, “we” (the users of Wikipedia) benefit from everyone’s contribution. Whether someone contributes thousands of edits, or only one, each adds value to the collective whole. It’s the same thing with shiftingthinking!

I’d like to end this posting with a couple of shout-outs. First to the members of our “long tail”. Guys, thank you. We love that you’ve stopped by and taken a moment to add your contribution to the shiftingthinking community.

Or is THIS you? (CC) http://www.flickr.com/photos/madflowr/3346345770/

Or is THIS you? (CC) www.flickr.com/photos/madflowr/3346345770

Second, to the “lurkers” – you know who you are. I want you to know that you’re welcome here too. I think I’m going to call you “foragers” from now on though. (I like to picture you as adorable little hedgehogs – shyly nosing around the edges of our community, nibbling surreptitiously from the cat’s dish, drinking water from the puddles of our drain-pipes, but leaving no trace of your presence). We promise not to shine a bright spotlight on you – but maybe just think about joining our long tail every once in a while? We’ll be here waiting, with a nice cup of tea and a gingernut biscuit.

**PS. I know time is a big factor making it hard to add comments. We’re still looking into other ways you can signal your presence without having to think too long and hard or compose the “perfect” comment – watch this space!

Shirky, C. (2008) Here comes everybody: The power of organizing without organizations. Penguin: New York.

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Lurkers, reveal thyselves!

April 15th, 2009

According to our “About” page,

This website is a space for theory and practice to interact, for theory to inform practice, and practice to inform theory.

We aim to support educators to talk about contemporary education, and to equip them with some analytical tools (articles, thinking objects) for doing so.

Reading the description above, it does seem to me to read a little bit one-way – i.e. this site is about “us” helping/telling/teaching/equipping “you” to be able to think about or talk about 21st century learning.

However, I personally think  of  shiftingthinking.org as a space for people to engage in collaborative knowledge-building, debate, discussion, questioning, etc. It’s not about “us” telling “you”, but rather, it’s about all of us thinking together, pushing and challenging our thinking, asking questions, and so on, within the general “frame” that we have established around 21st century thinking about learning and education.  However, as many bloggers know, in the absence of comment or feedback  sometimes you can really feel as though you are just talking to yourself. (I’m sure a lot of teachers and parents must feel like this sometimes!).

Thanks to the magic of google analytics, we know that we are getting visitors from around the world to shiftingthinking.org, and I have also had people emailing me or telling me in the kitchen or staffroom at work that they’ve read some of the site and found it interesting.

In the interest of opening up these discussions further, I would hereby like to call on all you lurkers, readers, and passers-by – drop us a comment or two!!  (In the last week or so we’ve been getting hit by spam-bots,  so it would be nice to read some genuine comments from humans, rather than websites trying to sell us viagra!). So if you are reading this, don’t be shy – I’d love to hear:

  • Who are you?
  • What brought you to shiftingthinking.org, what do you make of these ideas?
  • What are your own questions, experiences, memories, visions, and challenges with respect to thinking about education and learning for the 21st century?
  • OR – if you’ve been lurking for a while – what’s held you back from commenting to date?

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