This post is aimed at colleagues who (like I used to be) are mainly social media lurkers; who want to make the next step but are worried about it.
Table of Content
- I begin with leaving
- Dipping my toes into the water
- Developing a network
- Quick summary of participation
- Facing a stormy sea
- Still swimming: so what’s next?
- Where the sharks swim
- Knowledge Exchange, Esteem, Impact
- I am convinced: how do I start participating?
- Jump into the water
Remember my blogpost about the wicked problem of creating space for different voices? Particularly, the point about how to encourage participation?
I have had a long chat with my coach about communication and ended up talking about this as well. So she did what all good coaches do: asked me a lot of questions to get me there myself.
Yeah. Right?! Don’t you just sometimes want someone to simply tell you what to do?
Anyway, one of the outcomes was the question: “Why don’t you just tell your story about participating?”
Before I talk about my journey to participation: there are different levels of participation, and lurking can be effective.
This post is about emerging from the lurking state and finding my voice.
I should probably warn you, you better pause, make a cup of tea (or coffee or whatever floats your boat) and get comfy. This is going to be a bit of a write:
Photo by Chevanon Photography on Pexels.com
I begin with leaving
I just shut down my Twitter account. After two weeks in the Fediverse on a wonderfully moderated server–aka instance–I just could not cope with the onslaught of nastiness anymore. I am not going into the rise of racism, anti-semitism etc. I stared at it with despair, and decided to leave.
There are a whole host of valid reasons why people remain on Twitter. Just none of them worked for me. And I left behind a significant social capital built over the last years, particularly during lockdown, when being connected was even more important than before.
Dipping my toes into the water
Initially on Twitter, it felt weird to literally just butt into conversations, come to think of it: this was already step three. Step one being a “like”, step two a “retweet”, and step three a “comment”, later levelled up to a “quote comment”.
It is so hard. When you are a committed introvert, and you rather hide in a tower library or somewhere in the woods, to put yourself out there, to talk to people who you never met. Or even worse people whose work you have read and admire and they suddenly talk back with you.
Just like this, I was talking to strangers, following others, and being followed. I am still not quite sure how this all happened. And I took regular breaks from Twitter when all the noise became too much.
I learned very quickly, a whole lotta people there are not actually interested in dialogue, or even debate. They want platforming, broadcasting, one directional announcing, and please only react with worship or be damned, I mean banned.
So, I blocked generously (and apologise for legitimate colleagues, who I might have blocked in their early stages, when they started to follow people before setting up their profile, and I genuinely thought you were bots). I think this happened more than I know, it was only when I went onto my block list to look for something and was wondering: why am I blocking this person? That this suspicion arose.
Developing a network
Over time, I connected with a relatively small group–far from the ~2000 followers–with whom I would regularly chat on the platform. These conversations usually were fun, insightful, supportive, and we exchanged weird memes–don’t judge!
Eventually, I begun to participate in a couple of Twitter chats about learning and teaching in higher education, and this was so useful. It was great to spend an hour pondering questions in the chat. Exchanging ideas with other educators (in the widest sense of the word). Or during lockdown being prompted to reflect on my work during #SoTLwalk.
So after I had done this for a bit, I upgraded to the next level: running one of the chats! Well, co-run I was too scared alone and dragged my poor colleague Dr VHM Dale into the fray! It was unbelievable, sitting at my kitchen table, each of us on their devices (yes multiple) speed typing as if there was no tomorrow. Well, it was awesome!
We both grew more confident about participating after that.
Quick summary of participation
- dip toe into the water
- occasionally panic
- manage boundary setting digitally
- stand with both feet in the water
- realising I am still save
- jumping into the deep end with a friend
Photo by Noelle Otto on Pexels.com
So far so good.
Facing a stormy sea
Now some time later one of the founders of the chat asked if I wanted to be on the organising team for a semester. Needless to say: I was daunted (it is a lot of work!), but also love challenges so said yes. She set me up with a wonderful colleague (whom I am going to meet for the first time ever in person next week!) and we started organising the group chat, with the patient help of our mentor.
And then Covid happened and the first lockdown, and suddenly a comfortable chat of a relatively steady community became a life-line for educators, across the world, who suddenly had to pivot to online learning, who felt isolated, stressed, worried, overwhelmed–and the engagement rates went through the roof.
We tried to stay on top of it while being flat out going through moving all our own teaching online, and both of us also support colleagues in doing so. And it was not a smooth ride, there was a lot of nippiness in the changing community–of course people being stretched to their limits. We didn’t always get everything right, and who would in such a situation?
So we sea-sawed between grateful and hateful responses (I think the worst was a “respectfully f*** off”), though the grateful outweighed by far! There was a significant amount of ‘behind the scenes’ support as we muddled our way through. Peer support is crucial! Find your friends first! Needless to say after our tenure during this first semester of the first lockdown, we were exhausted!
So even a good thing can be awful and wonderful at the same time.
Still swimming: so what’s next?
Quick stop at an island
I am sticking with the water metaphor, I am swimming now. This whole process was also tightly linked to much upheaval in my workplace, from adverse management situations, dealing with the trauma from this, significant change of job role, promotion, and various publications. I also felt I had to reinvent this blog.
I deleted all the old blog posts from my PhD years–before a colleague mentioned to save them somewhere, which I did with the last half of the blogs. I wanted to shed this time period because it was associated with too much trauma, family deaths, accident etc.
After the blog redesign.
Did you know you can link your blog to Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and other platforms? So every time you publish it automatically pushes your blogpost to these.
Mind you until then, my blog was my publicly hidden secret. I couldn’t be bothered with search engine optimisation (still can’t), or tags, or promoting it. So linking it with these wider networks was freaky!
It felt like jumping into a maelstrom without knowing where it would carry me. Who knows who is going to read my thoughts? If you are used to my writing you know that I am just blabbing away as it leaks out of my brain. Sometimes when I read back I notice a sentence or two make no sense whatsoever, and even I wonder what I was thinking there.
So yes. High risk.
Until the responses started and I realised I am swimming in the maelstrom!
So here is the biggest lesson I took from participation:
Good is Good Enough!
My blogs are probably a living nightmare for every copy editor, the grammar sometimes goes wonky, and there are regular typos. I have never learned the mystery of commas. So what? Where you entertained? Did you take something away from it?
Maybe not today: it’s a looooooong post.
I had people ask me if they could try out my teaching methods, responding positively to my ideas, even wrote their own response blog posts.
So yes. Your voice is important! Your voice counts! Whatever your writing style is* you will find people for whom your voice is exactly the right thing, at the right time. Trust that good is good enough!
Being able to write in your own voice can be scary, daunting, risky, petrifying. It can trigger our survivor self. The perfectionist, over-achieving, ambitious, professional self-doubter truly struggles to be “just” good enough. That’s what I learnt.
Here is my challenge to you: try it! Publish a guest blog post first.
What is the worst thing that could happen? Nobody reads it? Some people will love it and some people won’t get you at all. So what? It is going to happen anyway. There will always be people who do not ‘get’ you no matter how much you hide behind perfect outputs. Might as well participate anyway.
Try the Fear Setting exercise by Tim Ferriss if you want to dig a bit deeper into what is holding you back. It’s like goal setting but with a twist. Recommended by Fiona Bicket, my coach I linked to above.
Where the sharks swim
Back in the deep water
Photo by GEORGE DESIPRIS on Pexels.com
The more I participated the more I noticed cracks in the quirky, bubbly, global, virtual Kaffeeklatsch that was academic Twitter. There was a significant amount of showing plumage–fair enough. Mum says: “Klappern gehört zum Handwerk.” (Making noise is part of the craft.)
Here it was more about differentiation: tone, place, regularity, and some accounts are all about that. Achievement klaxon. The end. Another way for one-way communication, with gracious acceptance of congratulations.
Or deliberations of intellectual superiority making the text inaccessible to all but disciplinary experts. Another way to hiding maybe? Polish the veneer and make sure no one can get through?
And then there were these strange posts, that made me feel all awkward and weird and I could not quite figure out why, because they appeared to say the right things. This is when a colleague (who learned it from her son!) told me about virtue signalling. Yet another form of showing plumage, announcing to the world ones virtue and morality, instead of (just) living it.**
All this was then topped by a pattern I noticed, which was so toxic, that my colleague (who incidentally noticed it at the same time) and I decided to run a whole group chat*** on it: Parasitic Aggregation.
What tipped me over the edge was noticing people creating these threads on Twitter, quote-tweeting themselves to get their own engagement numbers up, having shared one of my resources, without tagging me, or using my original post. I accidentally stumbled across this and was so shocked (we followed one another so it would not have been a problem to include me) that I didn’t react and then I could not find it anymore–because you know; I wasn’t tagged…
Which leads us to the more cynical or strategic reasons for participation. And maybe because we are all so aware of how toxic the kudos collection can feel, we can be reluctant to participate. And maybe the toxic behaviour patterns above strengthen this reluctance, after all if we are in this space, we could be guilty by association?
Knowledge Exchange, Esteem, Impact
I am sure you recognise the triptych of the heading? If your are working in higher education in the UK it might be familiar. Are you on a teaching focussed academic contract and the triplet of hell is haunting your sleepless nights? –too much?
Okay then: How have you evidenced these? I am actually interested please comment below!
Despite some of the misgivings, participation on any of the platforms, blogs, Twitter, Mastodon, LinkedIn, Facebook, and there are groups for everything in all of these, can actually have a positive impact. They can be learning communities, share resources, help you solve a problem, provide support, advice, connectivity.
Here participation, finding your voice in these spaces and using it, can yes contribute to the triptych above, but it can have a significant positive impact on your professional and personal development. Because it is not just about showing plumage. There is scope for real connections, relationships, and conversation, at an international level.
No conference I have ever been to, has had as much impact as beginning to participate in these spaces.
Photo by Tim Mossholder on Pexels.com
I am convinced: how do I start participating?
Jump into the water
In our institution there are various calls for participation: join a reading or writing group, write blog post, make a podcast, contribute to the 12 Days of SoTL, Learning and Teaching Conference, internal social network, internal funding. So if your institution has anything like this you have a save starting point very likely with peer support in place.
If you are thinking about social networks. Figure out first: What are you comfortable with?
If this is smaller spaces, are there any MS Teams or Yammer etc groups in your institution you can join?
Maybe join a small Mastodon instance . Keep in mind in the Fediverse you have more control over your engagements. I enjoy it because it is a much more deliberate form of connecting. You might want to look at the public profiles of your instance (server). Unlike Twitter you do not have to endure the nastiness leaking into your timeline, if you choose your instance, and the instances and groups you follow carefully.
If you like a platform for experimenting with writing, and only occasionally engage more directly, blogging might be the way for you Medium (not free) or WordPress (free) as platforms are good. Here are two different perspectives on academic blogging: a small study published in the Guardian and one from the UACES.
There are other platforms and spaces to explore, it might depend very much on what you are looking for. Join some and explore what they do. If I have learnt one thing from finally participating. It enriched my learning, personal development (I even got free coaching once), my teaching and scholarship. And you can only access this if you participate–so start lurking and liking!
And then take the next step …
Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Pexels.com
*My aunt accuses me of being “locker flockig” (appearing unconcerned, relaxed). I know how dare I!? Yes, it was meant to be an accusation.
**I am not talking about people who try to promote public health behaviour by the way. Because I learned last week that apparently people who were working on informing about public health measures were accused of virtue signalling. That’s not what this is about.
***See how this is now just a normal thing to do after all the panic?