Reflections on Pearson Canada’s Social Media Summit

“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.

30 thoughts on “Reflections on Pearson Canada’s Social Media Summit

  1. Hi Andrew;

    You and I have already “talked” a lot about today, and we will talk more, I am sure.

    Thank you for making your thinking on this day transparent. Transparent and open is, I think, what we all assume we get from our PLN on social media.

    I take exception with one point:

    “The message that this wasn’t a conference or a workshop, but a focus group, wasn’t well communicated outside the event.”

    I would say it was not even communicated well within the event!

    The space you shared in today calls this “Ontario Social Media Symposium”:(, and if you look up the definition of a symposium, it is, in fact, a conference.

    It would seem to me that even those running the event think it was a conference.

    Calling it what it was – Pearson hiring educators to learn about SM – is transparent and open. It’s unfortunate it took so long for that to happen today.

    I learned a lot today. This event shook my beliefs and even though I was not there, I am wiser because of it.

    I look forward to further conversations.

    • I think anyone who attended and thought it was a conference was delusional. You don’t get paid to attend a conference. Was Pearson being deceitful? I don’t think so, I prefer to think they were sloppy.

  2. I’m not sure what to call it, the semantics around these events appear to be quite fluid. Summits are now tech-evangelist fan clubs, and apparently symposiums aren’t conferences. Wikipedia does back that up, there appears to be a lot more in the way of carousing at symposiums:

    I think the fact that it was a paid to attend event got up a lot of people’s noses… I’m not sure why. If we funnel hundreds of thousands of dollars to American consultants from an inferior education system, no one bats an eyelash, but if local educators are recognized as experts, a soc-med uprising ensues.

    Social media appears to be a place where everyone can claim expertise and demand their due loudly, publicly. I can’t help but wonder if they would be saying the same things if they had attended. That people with fairly minimal soc-med presences (I’m happy to go toe to toe with anyone over Klout or any other metric you care to name) came out of the woodwork over this is telling.

    It was mentioned that the organizers tried to pick a wide range of educators (I saw librarians, teachers, administrators, and technology and curriculum specialists in the audience). There were fifty or so seats, when they were filled, they were filled. Had they had the means, I’m sure more people would have been invited.

    The fact that some people have alluded to our professionalism being in question as a result of this is insulting to the people who attended and delusional on the part of the people throwing stones in their glass houses. I have no problems, moral or professional, with what I did today. It was a valuable look at a new and changing form of media. I even like that soc-med is so flat that a relatively small event like this can cause such waves. The experiment continues…

  3. Thanks for sharing your reflections on the day.
    I can’t agree that the SM focus group was not exclusionary, just like any other job. No one was interviewed. No one applied. One or two teachers got to pick who they wanted to invite. I can’t think of anything more exclusive than this.

    It’s too bad Pearson appointed 1 or 2 teachers to select who would best represent Ontario as social media “experts” in the classroom instead of opening up an application process in a fair and non-partisan manner. Through this invitation-only process we have been ranked and rated through exclusion/inclusion, all based on the opinions of one or two people. I have learned a lot about how reputations are made today and feel unsettled by this. I hope you do too.

    Still, I worry my post will be dismissed by a few who think anyone upset about being left out is acting like a petulant child having a tantrum over not being invited to a party. This is neither collegial or respectful. It is elitist-just like the selection process that took place for #ontsm

    • I suppose if that’s the criteria then many conferences are exclusionary. Hundreds couldn’t attend the Google Apps for Education summit even though they wanted to and submitted their names on a waiting list. There was no selection criteria, no application process, etc. but no one batted an eye at their exclusion. I wonder why? Is the difference that this time it was Pearson, the evil empire, and not those cool people from Google? There are lots of conferences I can’t or don’t participate in for a variety of reasons. Does that mean they’re being exclusive because they don’t include me?

      I don’t know who selected the people who attended OntSM and how it was decided. What I can tell you is that it wasn’t “1 or 2 teachers” but was done by Pearson staff. I wouldn’t characterize those assembled as those “who would best represent Ontario as social media “experts” but as a cross section of teachers. There were many educators who are very active in social media but also some newer teachers I’d never met before and some who are not very active. One person at my table kept saying to me “I have no idea why I’m here”. Pearson is probably better able to answer how they selected participants.

      I assume this was just the first step and there are more to come. If Pearson is serious about this they’ll be reaching to include those other voices. If they don’t, we can quite right view the process as flawed.

  4. Nicely put Andrew. This was a refreshing first attempt for education publishers to develop a new model of how the corporate world and education might interact. I appreciated being given (seizing?) the opportunity to say, “If you are going to be in this business then this is what we want and need from you” It will be very interesting to follow what emerges from this day.

  5. Andrew, Tim, Jane, and Donna,
    I assume that many of us experienced a moment of doubt about working for Pearson for the day; our confusion about the purpose of the day certainly contributed to these pangs. Like Andrew, however, I felt that working constructively with Pearson was an appropriate way to start regular dialogue between publishers and educators. While I’ve read some blog posts about the dangers of corporate influence (“shouldn’t the Ministry be doing something like this instead?”), I think publishers can still have a role to play in education. For example, content may no longer be scarce, but the wealth of Pearson’s content is still useful. If schools aren’t buying textbooks, what should be done with Pearson’s content?

    As for the issue of who was selected, perhaps we should look at it this way: clearly, there are lot of educators who want to be part of this discussion, and Pearson would be remiss if these voices were not added to the conversation.

    • Hi Jim;

      I have no issue at all with Pearson hiring amazing educators and learning from them. It happens all the time with other corporations. Go for it.

      The difference this time was that the event became very public. Consultations, from my experience (and I have done some too) are normally private events, with results made public (sometimes) only after the event is over.

      Yesterday had a play by play flavour to it!

      Normally, when you are at a conference sponsored by Pearson, that banner is everywhere. While I have been told many times and on no uncertain terms that I should have been well aware that #ontsm was a Pearson event, I wasn’t. Nothing in #ontsm suggests a private company invitation only event. (All the email and DMs I received suggest I was not alone in this misunderstanding). In fact I received information from someone attending the event that it was open and anyone could go, so even those in attendance were perhaps a bit confused (or worried about the waiver).

      The tweets, of course, were public. They were full of excitement around learning, meeting people, sharing conversations, even with videos of all the fun. Of course, everyone seeing that wanted to be there too. I think a bit of up front information, like, “Here we are today, showing Pearson a thing or two about social media. Join in and tell Pearson what you think….” or something like that would have been a good plan. Maybe that was there and I missed it. I’m still not sure how this was made transparent and open, though many have insisted to me that it was.

      People assuming they were tweeting with people at a conference would not then feel so deceived at the end of the day. Being told your ideas were “brought forward” had a whole different meaning upon discovering that meant they were being discussed with Pearson. Maybe that should not be the case. I am still thinking about that.

      We can question why people felt deceived. I am certainly guilty of making assumptions, and even more guilty of not warning the teachers I coach into an online presence that things are not always what they seem.

      I will closely examine my own professional practice online after this. I am saddened that people who went to the event think that this is personal. From my perspective, it is not in any way.

      However, it is an excellent catalyst for conversation that should, in the end, make us all a stronger Professional Learning Network here in all of #Ontario.

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts.


  6. I agree with you Jim! Publishers do have an active role and it’s definitely in transition…changes need to happen. I’m sure publishers around the world invite professionals for input or advise all the time. However, we usually don’t know about it. This time seems to be different….why? Social Media at work?

  7. “That people with fairly minimal soc-med presences (I’m happy to go toe to toe with anyone over Klout or any other metric you care to name) came out of the woodwork over this is telling.” This line speaks volumes.

    This view minimalizes the presence of many excellent educators who attended the focus group by framing this as a popularity contest. Let’s not go there. Let’s not de-merit anyone over this.

    I’m not going to get caught up in semantics with anyone. I will not compare apples to oranges. I’m just trying to make a point about the selection process.

    I haven’t made or read any negative comments that question anyone’s professionalism over meeting with a corporation. Framing the argument in this manner is a deflective tactic. It’s unfortunate that this event has caused such a rift in our PLN. Hopefully, it will all heal over soon.

    • Not sure I think there’s been a rift. People have some legitimate questions and concerns, which we are discussing openly. I think that’s really healthy. We shouldn’t agree about everything all the time. Then nothing moves forward.

    • People ask for reasons why the people were chosen, I offer a metric, then it’s dismissed? I’m not sure how this can be resolved. I was there because I have a strong soc-med presence, other people were there for other reasons (as Andrew states). To be honest, I wasn’t sure why some of the people where there – they didn’t seem to know much about it, but perhaps that was intentional.

      Should boards not tweet board specific events because I’m not invited? Should I become angry and excluded next time another board runs a cool PD event that I can’t attend? That is exclusionary. Socmed gives us the opportunity to spread that information wider than the walls.

      The Google Summit was all about corporate influence, monopolistic even, but apparently attending that makes you forward thinking (if you were lucky enough to be invited – and many more people from the board that ran it attended, though it was happy to call itself the ONTARIO Google Summit).

      If you are invited to a corporate run event the next weekend that the only difference is that people were picked for a range of approaches, then there is suddenly vitriol. I don’t understand the difference. If someone cares to explain, I’m all ears.

      Then the ‘we need to be wary of corporate influence’ voices on twitter speak out, and I pop over to their blogs and they are plastered with private company logos (that I presume they are advertising for). But again, those are cool internet companies, so it’s ok to advertise for them? Socmed is branded, by its nature, but the people powering it are only willing to evangelize tech-companies?

      As Andrew said, “if it’s those cool guys from Google, anything goes.” A company that works almost exclusively with the education sector (and employs many more Canadians than those cool guys) does exactly the same thing (while draining over $160,000 out of Ontario’s education budget), and they’re heroes.

      I’m really at a loss here.

    • I don’t think there is rift at all. In a limited seat engagement such as this one, there will be people that won’t make it / not invited. It’s that simple. It’s not a popularity contest at all. Quite frankly, even if an intense selection process took place, those who won’t make it (by way of the limited seating parameters) will feel like it’s a popularity contest anyway.

      The GAFE summit was a great example for me. I wanted so badly to be there but couldn’t as it was full. Pearson clearly had their parameters and I understood it as not based on popularity or some obscure social media metric. It’s unfortunate that such a tremendous gathering is mired by discontent from those that couldn’t / wasn’t invited. I would like to think that our PLN is far more mature and stronger than this.

  8. Wow, I go to bed and everything’s fine and when I wake up, “Shit has hit the fan”!

    It’s too bad that some people felt excluded from this wonderful event. I am sure that Royan and Tania are mortified at the controversy their event has wrought because it is my belief that they planned this with the best of intentions in mind (Tania is a teacher on secondment to Pearson now). Why fault Pearson/Tania/Royan for having the insight to ask teachers for their input on how a publishing company can best use Social Media? So what if the invitees were paid? We all lead crazy, busy lives and while many of us would have attended for free, the fee we received was a nice compensation for our time. I also suspect that the teachers there were invited for a number of reasons that go beyond Klout scores.

    For sure, there should be more events like #ONTsm, unsponsored. Go ahead and organize such an event if you’re so inspired!!! And sign me up, please!

    I’m also confused about the comments here regarding the #GAFESummit. Wasn’t it just a matter of “First-come, first-serve” for registration?

    • My point about the GAFE summit has nothing to do with not being invited. It was 1st come 1st served. The point I’m making is that every event has its limited capacity (regardless of invite only or open registration).

  9. Personally, I’m fine with Pearson hiring whoever they choose to teach them about SM in education. Were other voices missing? Yes. But we had a chance to participate and contribute through SM itself!! (-;

    I’d like to add a different observation. Although the world of SM is inherently open, I have to say I’ve experienced a few backs turned on me on different occasions by people well established in the Ontario edn tech sector in the past few years. I preferred to put it down to their being intensely busy, and my being an unknown to them.

    Seeing this conversation today, and extrapolating to the virtual explosion of extraordinary teachers who are still coming new to the scene (witness the incredible number of sessions submitted to ECOO13), I’m wondering how self-aware and inclusionary we can all be, as we navigate this enormous time of change in our profession.

    SM makes it possible for even the newest and most isolated teacher to contribute their phenomenal thinking and work with kids – and we risk losing incredible contributions if we aren’t able to recognize and include them.

    Isn’t that always the challenge of people in the lead?

    • One of the sessions I was in yesterday we talked about how the way we use social media changes as we get more experienced. How our first tweets are almost embarrassing and how as we develop more skill it becomes harder to relate to the issues and problems of new users. We certainly need to make an effort to reach and out connect in ways that are accessible to all users. We want to be as inclusive as possible at times, but that won’t always be the case.

    • Cathy,

      You raise a very important point. I have memories of discomfort at approaching folks with whom I have communicated online but have never met face to face — and I recall the emotion that ensues when their recognition does not equal mine. Awkward.

      Equally awkward, but more painful, is the converse — when for whatever reason (you are polite to offer a couple) someone approaches me and shares “I follow you,” and I feel like I’ve suffered a memory blank at not recognizing them.

      Our common buddy @dougpete and I were discussing something tangential to this in a email a few days back (I have the email in draft, Doug, still looking for a good answer) and I wonder if his question was prompted by something similar to our dilemma here.

      Let’s continue this conversation.

  10. This is a good example of what we mean by the learning being messy. It’s certainly not “end of the world” messy or anything like that. Just a little bit of the shift hitting the fan.

    • I’m sensitive to this discussion because it caused me lots of thinking for the 3 years that I was conference chair for ECOO. Being fair, being inclusive, and not being focused on the corporate world but staying teacher focused wasn’t always easy but something that we have tried very hard to do.

      It’s hard not to be cliquey when people get excited and enjoy being together. I wasn’t at either the #gafesummit or the #ontsm but I did contribute through SM and did some learning, as I always do when educators are getting together and SM is involved. Did I feel a little excluded…no, just unfortunately not able to attend.

      To me it looked liked Pearson did have the right people gathered. For the most part, these people really know and use SM and they demonstrate a real interest in teacher/student learning, not just tools. They blog, they are transparent, you can google them, and they actually show up on something other than Linked In!

      Jane MS is definitely someone I would like to see included in another round of Pearson talks. She has a depth in the media realm that few of our Ontario teachers have!


  11. “I wondered why it took Pearson Canada to get educators together, face to face, to talk about social media in Ontario education.”

    The Association for Media Literacy hosted a social media conference at York University in April, 2012.

    Many of you attended.
    The dialogue must continue.

  12. Andrew, and everybody else. Thanks so much for disturbing the shift. This is a great conversation, and, as with all reflective learning, we take a look at the experience, and see what we can learn, and start over again.

    I loved seeing people like Cathy beach hopping in to learn yesterday. I did some of the same with #gafe. One of the great things about SM is it helps you be there even when you can’t be there.

    When people asked me about the event beforehand, I said that my understanding was that Pearson, in transition, wanted to pick the brains of some people using social media productively… And it was a great range: newbies, oldies, independents, Catholic, public, K-12, ministry, consultants. God forbid, there were even a couple of French teachers (besides me). That never happens, and it made me happy!
    Who knows what the next step looks like? Who knows who’ll be there? It’ll continue to be interesting, I’m sure.

  13. Thank you Brenda. I appreciate your comments.

    No doubt Pearson had the right people. I don’t think anyone was questioning that. These people are part of my own personal learning network.

    I said I wouldn’t compare apples to oranges but I’m not sure everyone understands the distinction between the Google summit and the Pearson focus group. Forgive me a moment and please let me clarify. Ways the two companies are the same: they’re both corporations interested in the business of Education. Ways the two events differed: Google was open to anyone-there were no special invites, no rankings consulted, and above all, people actually paid money to go. The Pearson focus group however, was a closed group, invite-only, and people were paid to attend. Yes, Pearson has every right to invite whoever they want to these groups. But I’m told this job was given to a select couple of teachers instead.

    I don’t think anyone was asking why people were chosen Tim, but I’ll address your “Klout” suggestion in just a moment. First, I had mentioned in earlier tweets that I felt it was problematic for one or two teachers to make picks for the invite list and suggested an alternate method such as an application process. This could have been run by Pearson since they were paying the participants. I think most of us can agree on this.

    It’s obvious there was no intended ill will on anyone’s part during the organization of the Pearson focus group. Still, there are some who have their backs up and rightfully so. It does no good to dismiss them. There are so many learning opportunities here. The ironic thing is that most of them center around social media use. So then, let’s have that discussion.

    In hindsight, what went wrong? Here’s a starter list and maybe some of you will care to jump in with solutions or even add to the list. Reflection can only move us forward.
    1. Selection process. See above. The in/out list still warrants more discussion as it has an impact on reputation. If you understand social media, then you know this to be true.
    2. Tweeting from a closed and corporate-sponsored focus group. Unlike the business world, dealing with proprietary information and contracts are not something educators are used to dealing with
    3. Hash tag -#ontsm was problematic as it suggested it was representing ONTario teachers in Social Media when really this was a corporate-sponsored focus group. Organizers need to have foresight on representation

    Lastly, I want to address the issue of “Klout”. The suggestion of using a metric like to justify anyone’s presence just doesn’t sit well. It raises questions around the effects of using such a medium. “Effects”. Blech. As a former member of the media, I hate that word as it suggests a problem with the tool, rather than its use. But I digress.

    This ranking says nothing about the way you use social media in the classroom. It says nothing pertinent about your action research on social media in education. What it does serve to do, it to provide data that evaluates in numbers your interactions within only two distinct virtual social spaces. If this is all that Klout tells us, then it just may say more about popularity than anything else. (Okay, Fred, now I’ve said it). Anyone still grappling with this should head over to John T. Spencer’s recent post, “The Danger in Quantifying Relationships”.

    • Wow, crappy Williams Coffee House, crappy internet just timed out on me after I crafted a big reply. I hate them. I’m never coming back here.

      Here are the bullet points:
      – I missed Jane at the Pearson thing, she would have been a great voice to have there
      – Klout isn’t perfect, but it does make an attempt to measure something tricky (reach – by looking at how your communications spread online through retweets, likes, etc). As I said on Andy’s blog, SM is such a personal exercise that no one likes to be measured on it… I get that. It would at least offer an apples to apples comparison, even if it were limited.

      This is more a general observation:
      – I’m still surprised by the (selective) anti-corporate vibe that arose from this. Google is loaded (in a way that makes Pearson look like a start up) but everyone wants one of their tshirts (I did!). Pearson didn’t even offer me a tshirt.

      If we’re going to get all socialist, then we have to basically give back the internet as we know it, much of what we take for granted on it is private business developed. I like to have a good go at myopic business practice myself, but what Pearson did was one of the least evangelistic things I’ve seen, and they footed the bill (rather than draining tens of thousands of dollars out of Ontario’s not loaded school system).

  14. Agree Andy. I know there are 2 or 3 main issues here which have been raised. But my thoughts are swirling much more around a concern for the hundreds of thousands in the “learning profession” in Ontario (I’ve changed my profession lately) who are in the beginning stages – or soon to appear – within our professional online networks, conferences, etc. wanting to learn and join all the cool conversations everyone is having. I can’t imagine how all of this will work itself out as the size of our networks and contacts simply grow too enormous to remain humanly viable. Will all of these newbies get lost because they are new to the scene? Is there even a way to include them?

    At what point will Twitter Chats become untenable because there are just too many tweeps all tweeting at once? Can ECOO be all things to everyone when our numbers explode in the next few years by virtue of teacher awareness and need? As individuals, how do we handle relationships built online when Twitter/FB followers reach the hundreds and for some, thousands? And is it possible to remain cognizant of the numbers of people monitoring our conversations between small groups of colleagues as we essentially communicate in glass houses? What’s the give and take here, benefits and losses?

    We talk with our kids about their online activities, but this past weekend has taught me that we ourselves have some new learning to figure out – our own online activity is a new shade of grey in the realm of human and professional relationships!

    Messy learning? Yep. Learn and live. (-:

  15. Cathy:

    Just had to say that I loved your “glass houses” comment. It’s strange, sometimes, when you back the lens up a little bit, and realize that you are having a conversation in a very public environment, and that it’s only going to get more public, as more and more people realize the benefits of learning this way. Going to continue to be a long, strange, trip.

    • Isn’t this the same struggle that our students have? The kids suspended in Brampton lasy year for trashing their teachers on FB were genuinely shocked that people were reading their ‘private tweets’. Social media is public.

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