On Friday, Martin Weller wrote about academics competing in the attention economy, something that has interested me for some time. We went on to have our usual knockabout exchange in the comments on Martin's post, and while I accept his main point as valid, thinking about this has left me reinforced in my belief that academia and social media are not entirely suited to each other, and there there could be a better way.
When competing for online attention, academia is doomed if it places itself in competition with entertainment. I know you don't want to hear that (my speaking diary for the next couple of months with half a dozen invitations to talk about social media in education conforms this), but that's the way it is. Sadly, this puts me out of sync with the current swing toward social education. Too far ahead of the bloody curve again :-( What's the solution? Academic needs to place itself above entertainment in the attention economy, and in society in general. Until we pursue that goal, the long downward slide will continue.
What I really want to talk about is dark social, but that's not a message that people want to hear at present. This last six months has been a revelation to me, still leveraging the power of technology without forcing mock social interactions. I have developed a dark social approach to my teaching this year and the results have been better than I could have hoped. On my first year key skills module last year, for the first time ever (over 10 years), the pass rate was 100%. I'm certainly not claiming all the credit for that, we have a very strong first year cohort, but with n~300, that's pretty convincing evidence for the dark social approach to educational curation (or "teaching", if you will). And overall, once I'd got a decent email system sorted out (including tagging, folders, templates, lists, etc), it wasn't any more work for me than obsessively monitoring social media for student activity and support requests.
Based on my current teaching experience, next year I plan to roll out the dark social approach further. That means a lot of online content will disappear from the VLE and will be replaced with skeleton notes and high quality interaction face to face in lectures (I'm shifting the blend back to the classroom), and via one-to-one online channels such as email and facebook messages (which have taken off recently in a sub-cohort of students from whom this is their preferred channel). So in five years time when the MOOC hysteria has gone and all this is old hat again, remember who told you about dark social ;-)