“There are unknown unknowns – things we do not know we don’t know.” Donald Rumsfeld, 2002
I recently listened to an interview with author Matt Taibbi who writes for Rolling Stone and Men’s Journal. Taibbi has written several important articles about US financial scandals and does a great job of understanding and explaining complex financial issues to readers. The interviewer asked Taibbi how he was able to learn about the complex workings of finance when he had no background in the area and Taibbi responded by saying he called people up and said “’Tell me something about something.’ I didn’t know enough to be able to ask questions”.
That’s the position Pearson Canada discovered they were in. They are transitioning from being an educational publisher to…something else. They know that social media is an increasingly important part of how educators are connecting with each other and helping students learn, but don’t know what social media is, how it works or how educators are using it.
Therefore, Pearson Canada hired a group of educators to come to their offices for a day and talk about social media in education so that they could start to learn about it. Pearson Canada staff facilitated the discussion, set the focus questions and listened and learned. They wanted to know what they don’t know.
At least that was the plan. The assembled group contained several notorious “shift disturbers” (ahem) and it was a mere 20 minutes before the first presenter was unceremoniously interrupted. For the rest of the day the organic and chaotic nature of free discourse, facilitated by social media, was the process, as the ‘summit’ lurched from one topic to another and connections were made and explored.
Somewhere in that ‘mess’ the real purpose of the gathering became obscured to those observing through social media and some in the #OntEd twitter-verse became confused about what was actually happening. Was this a conference? A workshop? Why didn’t they know about it? Why weren’t all welcome? Why did this small group feel qualified to ‘speak’ for all Ontario educators about social media? Where was the diversity of voices? (parents? students?)
At the end of a long day I’m pondering a few questions and answers:
Was the Social Media Summit exclusionary? No, no more than any other job is exclusionary. The message that this wasn’t a conference or a workshop, but a focus group, wasn’t well communicated outside the event. The intention of the summit was simply to give Pearson Canada insight into current social media practice in Ontario and what some of the issues are with social media use in classrooms. I assume this is part of a process for Pearson Canada, the first step along the path, and that there are many other steps to come, many other voices and viewpoints to consider.
Why Did I Go? The same reason I go to attend other professional meetings, for the people. I respect those who invited me and knew there’d be other knowledgeable, passionate educators I’d learn a lot from. If Pearson Canada can glean something out of those interactions, provided they don’t alter the process, I’m fine with it. I tried to make sure I didn’t change what I said or shared because of the context. I think I was successful, but I need more time to fully reflect on it.
Engagement is a great way to understand something and to affect change. Education corporations have a role in Ontario education, and I’d rather they were engaged in dialogue with educators, in some form, than not. Pearson Canada asked educators for input. That’s a step in the right direction that I want to support and encourage.
What About Pearson Canada? I’m not sure where they go and what they do about social media. It will be difficult for them to engage in social media until they change their corporate culture. Using social media successfully requires transparency and a willingness to engage in messy dialogue. People and organizations have to be comfortable with that. An active and engaging social media presence could go a long way to improve the image of Pearson Canada and their relationship with educators, but they need to change in order for that to work.
Overall, I’m glad I participated. Learning from those who attended was a privilege. I wondered why it took Pearson Canada to get educators together, face to face, to talk about social media in Ontario education. I hope it’s a conversation that is just beginning and will continue in other venues.