Choices choices…

I’m fairly active on social media, particularly on twitter (@samgrogan btw…) I have around 980 followers and I follow about 780 accounts, broadly with an education-centric leaning.

In thinking about systematically nurturing a sense of serendipity, I don’t think one could find a much better tool than social media, particularly twitter, because of its temporal speed. I often find I’ve been sent content, or interesting and useful sources via twitter, or more often than not, I just pick them up. I regularly wonder whether or not I would have found said content (which later becomes important in this discussion or that meeting) had I not just happened to see it somewhere near the top of my twitter feed, because I just happened to look at the right time. Right time, right (digital) space, so to speak…

Integrating this tool not just into daily social life, but into our general practice of work is an opportunity to invite in the random source, or the tangential external voice, or the link to something. It’s great for skimming across huge quantities of information – extending the possibility of the relational and the unexpected through networked, rather than linear thinking.

It’s also a cracking opportunity for systematising distraction and diverting ones attention from the task at hand…in-case-of-fire-exit-building-before-tweeting-about-it-poster

Ultimately, it’s another tool for us to use, and like any tool, can be used to good, or bad effect.

Happily, we’re really good at this at Salford – several of our teaching staff have published on the relationship between social media and learning and are recognised as experts in the field. Certainly our nursing twitter feed, for example, (@nursingSUni btw) curated by students and staff is a great example of how to foster an ongoing sense of community within a discipline of practice which sees the students spend a lot of time out on placement – twitter is a key tool here in ensuring a connectedness is maintained. In true cross-disciplinary fashion, Wendy Sinclair, (@wlasinclair btw) one of our lecturers in Nursing has even written a blog for our Business School.

However, like a twitter feed itself, I am wandering off into other avenues of thought…

I think there is also a counterpoint to the tangential content that social media offers; a possibility that would seem to negate the opportunity for the serendipitous moment to occur wherein opposing views and discordant thinking are brought together to produce the unexpected.

This occurs in the fact that, like much of the web traffic we encounter, social media is increasingly targeted and more and more personalised. Adverts come at us based on our browsing history, and, in a wonderfully intelligent digital echo of a Heideggerian ‘being-in-the-world’, we produce our world as we need to see it – our intentionality dictates content. Consequently, if the algorithms sitting behind Amazon’s (other online shops are available…) messages evaluate our thinking and digital choices with the purpose of pushing more of the same theme at us, aspects of choice – aspects of difference, aspects of the unexpected, begin to disappear. Our frames of reference have the potential to quietly and unobtrusively shrink as our social feeds become mirrors of ourselves; homogenized plates of fleeting digital sustenance, which are bound to ‘please’ as they increasingly conform to, and reinforce our world view. Take a look at your facebook pages – it will seem more and more like the whole world agrees with you…

So what to do? How to navigate the tension between free space to wander/ wonder and a regulated space in which we’re simply designing our own increasingly restricted pathways? Check out these two articles from the same source – the debate is very much prescient to our increasingly blended personalised world…

Maybe a starting point would be to invite in contact, to productively ‘cook the conflict’, to take opinion from those with different world views, follow people you might not like, break digital habit, find a different route. It’s sometimes useful to follow the tangential thread. Thematic wandering can produce joyfully unexpected insights. (as well as a whole load of distraction – more cats anyone?)

See you next week.


Author: samgrogan

I am many sided; Pro Vice-Chancellor Student Experience at Salford University, Principal Fellow of the Higher Education Academy, driven Tough Mudder runner, and a lover of the outdoors. I live in the heart of the beautiful Peak District with my wife and our pets. On weekends, you'll find me out in the countryside with the dog, running or walking up a hill, or typically cooking for friends (I'm getting better, so they say) My role at Salford is one I cherish. I'm one of the fortunate few who wake up excited about the day ahead. It's really not work when it's this much fun. As part of the Vice-Chancellor's Executive Team I work alongside a gifted and dedicated team of creative educationalists passionate about being better tomorrow than we are today. As PVC SE at Salford I hold executive responsibility for both the assurance of quality and standards of our institutional academic portfolio, and its strategic direction and character. Intertwined with this facet of my role, I am responsible for strategic leadership and enhancement of the wider student experience and the development of a distinctive Salford learning environment. My overall purpose, driven by these two key parts of my role, is to develop a bold, playful learning landscape at Salford which delivers holistic sustainable success, preparing our students for life. I'm fascinated by how people learn, and how we might collectively make that experience result in a profound expansion of personal and professional horizons and an extension of possibilities for all parties involved. My greatest reward comes from seeing thresholds crossed, barriers broken, new habits formed and changes made. To this end, I'm also endlessly absorbed in considering how we might develop better, more useful ways of integrating the digital landscape and other technologies, emerging and present, into the act of learning. I think we're just beginning - a brave new world awaits... My background is in performance - Before undertaking my PhD and before spending the first half of my university career as a lecturer, programme leader and head of department, in my early career I acted, danced and made theatre across the world. This ten year experience continues to be fundamental in shaping the way I think about teaching and learning. At its best I see it as a facilitated journey of discovery, play, risk and adventure anchored in 'reflective doing'. Not 'knowing' in this context is often a signal that a useful path is being trodden - Thinking on its own is just rehearsal...

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