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Hanging back out in the open with #BYOD4L

I’ve been so preoccupied for the last year or so that I’ve had little time to engage in social networking or any open learning/reflecting. However, at the start of the week I happened to notice Sheila McNeil’s blog post extolling the benefits of participating in an open learning event called BYOD4L. She says “it brings people together to share practice […and] it’s a great way to reflect on how your own use of technology has evolved”. So, I thought I’d make time and give it a go. I’m glad that I did because it made me realise just how drastically my use of technology has altered in line with my learning practices. I’ve transitioned from an open learner, someone who is comfortable connecting and learning in open networks, to a PhD research student whose time and effort is more directed inwards or within closed communities.

 

The #BYOD4l activities centered on the 4Cs: connecting; communicating; curating; collaborating and creating. They provide an interesting  framework to reflect on the changes.

I would’ve said that I was pretty au-fait at using technology to connect, but Lord, you know the saying “use it or lose it”, well that’s what’s happened. What a performance I had on Monday night trying to figure out how to use TweetDeck for a Twitter chat. This can’t be right. Then I remembered, I used to use Hootesuite with its dashboard configured like NASA control center to stream a gazillion Twitter hashtags and lists. It was like finding old friends, all those streams of conversations on familiar topics 🙂

In terms of communicating, I haven’t blogged regularly about my learning for ages. It’s not that I haven’t been writing; it’s just that I’ve been writing for a select audience of supervisors, and it just doesn’t seem to be stuff that warrants a blog post. I wish I hadn’t fallen out of the habit of blogging so regularly because I now feel that a large part of my learning journey will go uncaptured and it’ll be tricky to see the rationale (or lack of) for how things have developed.

The tools I primarily use for communicating at the moment seem to be Slack and Facebook groups. Both have been excellent in terms of facilitating essential peer support. BTW, there was an interesting discussion about Slack as a teaching and learning platform, due to its easy affordances of channels and messaging.

Could Slack Be the Next Online Learning Platform?

Slack app at University of Southampton

The topic of curating was an interesting reflection because the course listed a whole pile of content curation tools, most of them that I’ve used to a greater or lesser extent at one time or another. What struck me though was that the primary curation I do now is curating bibliographic references, for myself. I use Zotero, which is open source, and   although it has the option to share your reference library, I haven’t actually done this. I might do in the future.

Collaborating is not really where I’m at at the moment. My primary focus is to develop a solid PhD research proposal, and that’s not a team sport.

The final C is creation. The BYOD4L course suggests that you create an artefact about your learning using a tool that you haven’t used before. Well, I cheated. I thought I’d use a tool I haven’t used in ages instead- my blog. And I’m glad that I did. And I’m glad that I joined BYOD4l this week as I’ve enjoyed hanging back out in the open – connecting and learning. It’s made me realise

I’m an open learner. Get me back out there!!!

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The True Power of Working Out Loud #WOL #WOLweek

Blimey. That was some year!! I’ve had no time to blog as I’ve been thrashing away under the workload of a research masters (MRes). It’s been a full-on year, but I’m happy to say that I’ve passed, and I’ve learned tons in the process.

My dissertation was a bit of a pragmatic choice. As you know, I’ve been following/advocating Working Out Loud for a while and since we’d covered discourse analysis on the MRes, I thought I’d put the two together. So that’s how I came to do ‘An Investigation into the Phenomenon and Discourse of Working Out Loud’.

During this, I was asked if I’d like to join a ‘random’ Working Out Loud Circle (a small peer support group that follows the principles of Working Out Loud as you work towards a personal/professional goal). However, the random circle proved difficult to get going as people couldn’t commit when it came down to it. Not to worry, this is where serendipity kicked in as I noticed Sue Beckingham was talking about Working Out Loud in one of her presentations. So I asked Sue if she’d like to join and see what she thought of the circle format, to which she promptly agreed and, even better, she managed to persuade a colleague, Hala Mansour to join me and Robyn Santa Maria in forming a WOL circle. Despite scheduling difficulties that come with life-in-general the circle quickly became a supportive environment in which to develop and work towards our goals. The circle prompted the following blog posts from my fellow conspirators:

The Soft/human Side of Working Out Loud!

A virtual cup of tea.

Reflecting on #WOL.

They pretty much give you a flavor of what Working Out Loud and being in a circle is all about, full of warmth, kindness and general bonhomie. And this is why the findings from my discourse analysis are so depressing. Let me explain.

It’s so depressing.

In my research I used the concept of discourse as put forward by Michel Foucault. That is, discourse is the production of knowledge through language. Foucault contends that we can only have knowledge of things when ‘things’ have meaning, and meaning is constructed within discourse. Akin to a body of knowledge, or system of representation, a discourse consists of groups of related statements that cohere in some way to produce meanings and these meanings have real world effects. It’s discourse that produces the objects of our knowledge, such as Working Out Loud. Moreover, discourse governs the way in which an object can and cannot be talked about and what’s more, it puts forward a particular version as being ‘true’. Conceding that knowledge is produced through discourse leads to the realization that discourse involves relations of power. What counts as knowledge, and how is this determined?

Foucault further argues that discourse not only constructs objects, but it also constructs subjects. That is, discourses create subject positions that individuals can accordingly take up, effectively specifying ways of seeing and being in the world. Such a conception has implications for individual agency. Foucault argues that institutional discourses prevail over human agency. He considers institutional discourses to always bear power, and that the production of knowledge can never be separated from institutional discourses and their practices, which serve to control professional practices and defend them from alternative expressions of power.

OK. Now that I’ve (hopefully) explained that head wreck, let me tell you what my analysis revealed.

It revealed that the discourse of Working Out Loud is constructed by uniting a discourse of social business and a discourse of personal development/self-actualization. In what seems to be a direct appeal to one’s humanity, the word ‘help’ appears, like a rash, across both discourses. By conflating different meanings of the word help, or intentions of who or what is being helped, it means that the primary subject position created in the Working Out Loud discourse effectively aligns individuals’ personal development/self-actualization with the realization of business goals. In this analysis, it seems that Working Out Loud represents an expression of what Foucault calls biopower. Although Foucault coined the term in relation to how modern states control subjects through the subjugation of bodies, some contemporary scholars are starting to identify biopower as a form of workforce control. They contend that the everyday life qualities of individuals are increasingly being indexed to the needs of the organization and that this essentially amounts to a form of self-exploitation. This is strong stuff, and to understand it you need to see the historical relationship between capital and labour and the evolution of techniques of control within the workplace.

In the classic studies by Weber and Marx, the de-humanizing aspect of work is a defining element because it was thought that the qualities that make us human weren’t required in the productive process. Now, as work processes have become more focused on the customer and value-added productivity is derived from personal and social aspects of the workforce, organizations no longer need command and control methods to constrain or separate individuals from non-work aspects of their life. Rather, biopower is the new order of the day because it seeks to capture individuals as they already exist and utilize our whole selves, or ‘life itself’ in the service of work.

I told you it was depressing. Mind you, having said that, I still can’t help but like Working Out Loud, after all it contains the very best of human nature, it’s a crying shame that it’s being used against you in these neoliberal times. The upshot is that I’m now more attuned than ever to power and politics and to contemporary methods of control in society. Consequently, I’m wondering about the big picture and what I can do about it. I’m also wondering how others develop critical sensibilities and what they propose to do about it, or is that what we think they can do about it. 🙂

Although it was quite an effort, and despite it being a thoroughly depressing analysis, I enjoyed this research project. I must’ve been crazy taking a topic that doesn’t significantly figure yet in the literature and combining it with a difficult methodology. Any way, moving on, for my PhD I’m going to work on a project that focuses on how professionals in the finance sector learn to make, or recognize, ethical decisions in times of rapid and complex change (Brexit). That’s sure to be another big learning adventure, and I’ll just have to see to what extent it’s possible to Work Out Loud.

References: Fleming, P. (2014). Review Article: When ‘life itself’ goes to work: Reviewing shifts in organizational life through the lens of biopower. Human Relations, 6 7(7), pp. 875-901. doi: 10.1177/0018726713508142.

Available at: http://openaccess.city.ac.uk/8237/8/Review%20article%20-%20When%20life%20itself%20goes%20to%20work%20-%20Reviewing%20shifts%20in%20organizational%20life%20through%20the%20lens%20of%20biopower.pdf

Image: Pixabay
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Networks: a many splendid thing #WOLweek

Haven’t blogged in a while. Haven’t blogged regularly for quite a while. Well, here’s hoping things are gonna change, especially as I’m sold on the idea of working as openly and as transparently as possible, because that’s how work gets done in networks. Besides, in relation to blogging about our work, there’s a bit of momentum gathering amongst my newfound network of peers at the Open University. Plus, it’s International Work Out Loud Week  #WOLweek and I’m looking forward to re-connecting with a few fellow advocates and starting back up our little Work Out Loud Circle. So no excuses!!

Interesting to note that the initiative of my new peer network was prompted by a presentation from Sheila MacNeill, who happens to be a solid member of my learning network and a good friend of mine. Also interesting to note is that Sheila’s presentation on Openness relates to the context of research and higher education, whereas within the context of Work Out Loud, similar discussion around openness and transparency relates to a more corporate or professional learning context.

I think these two things say a lot about where I’m at the moment in my learning journey, and maybe point to its future direction. As you might be aware, I’ve spent the last year or two roaming around the web, looking, listening and learning. Because I’ve been pretty much resident on the web, learning in the network (or is that networks), and because I’ve not really belonged to an identifiable real-world context, I don’t see the boundaries that other people might see. I guess that’s how I came to propose researching ‘something’ that relates to professionals learning in open networks. Hopefully, such a perspective means that I can bring together ideas from across sectors (or is that networks) and work across traditional boundaries to help professionals learn in an increasingly networked future.

Mind you, having said that, you might think that having this experience and perspective is great, but it’s not been without its surprises. Since arriving at the OU, I’ve discovered that my take on learning in networks is not the only one. When I think about networked learning I’ve hitherto only considered the ego or the personal learning network with the individual in full charge – determining their own learning, not that this could be designed for by others, and not that it could take place within organizational structures. A bit of an eye-opener.

Any way, we shall see where my inquiries take me. As always, it’s interesting to engage in the conversations out on the web but it’s also interesting to re-engage with the research literature again.

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