dangers and rewards of taking it social

Outside The Castle, Walthamstow

I attended the PLENK2010 Elluminate session with Harold Jarche on PKM in the corporate setting. Normally, I stand well clear of anything corporate-setting, figuring a fight will break out sooner or later. But the discussion was good. I’ve beem taking a little more interest in The Enterprise lately because I’m hoping to present my sabbatical work in PLENK2010 not to my academic colleagues but to business and laypeople at BSU’s extension service. Keeping that in mind, I pricked up my ears to what Jarche had to say about the value of PLE/N to business.

Which leads me to a side comment Jarche made in the session. In encouraging learners to use blogging for sense-making and reflection, Jarche mentioned getting outside of the email exchange and into the social arena. He advised, Don’t simply trade emails about a problem back and forth. Make the exchange social so that others can join in.

That tweaked me. For the past week, I’ve been having an email exchange with the newly-appointed Director on the role and character of the Center for Professional Development. My take is that the CPD is doing some of the tasks and training that the administration and ITS should be doing, and that the CPD is confining itself to maintaining the status quo for the administration rather than looking towards faculty innovation. The director argues that handling training and surveys is part of the CPD’s collaboration with the administration. I argue that the CPD is a faculty service and should deliver what faculty need in order to develop professionally, not do inservice training. Rather than collaborate, the CPD should lead, push the administration in the direction the faculty want to go.

At any rate, the email exchange is going nowhere. Bogged down. But I really should have realized that the better way to approach the issue is through a social exchange. Rather than emailing the director my comments, I could have posted them to this weblog, then emailed the link with my comments to her and perhaps others. If I had done that, I would have set the arena as social from the start. And this is, after all, what I try to teach.

So why not go social? In this case, it simply didn’t occur to me. Habit of email. It has to be made clear from the start where the discussion is going to go on. And it’s the same habit of email that has constrained the discussion we’re having to a semi-private exchange rather than a social exchange. I know I would get more – learn more, argue better – by reflecting on the role of the CPD in a social space – and I’d bet the director and my colleagues would get more out of it, too. The exchange becomes more valuable when it is shared socially.

Now, going social rather than using semi-private email can also be seen as a power play, or labeled as inappropriate, and could get me ostracized. It’s risky. Institutions – well, the one I work in –  like to keep what they think of as conflict in-house, like to show a unified face to the world – in spite of the good that a social exchange on, say, the role of a center for professional development might bring to the institution and to others. Moving discussions to the social realm can result in being cut out of the loop. Worse, it can lead to everyone playing close to the vest, saying nothing in fear of having to defend the position – going social means cards on the table, no bluffing, and that’s scary.

Is it worth the risk? Some days I think it is. Other days, I’m not so certain. In any case, the ethos of going social is changing, so we might as well get used to it locally. I’m posting this today with some hope that others on the PLENK2010 course might find it useful – and to strengthen my resolve. Next time the opportunity knocks, I’m taking my discussion social.