Connections, Social Media, and Academia (#smsociety15, #rhizo15)

One of the presentations I did at the recent Social Media and Society (#smsociety15) conference was as a panelist for the discussion on “More Than Just a “Follower”: How Is Academia Being Influenced by Online Communities of Practice & Networked Scholarship?

I debate how much I wanted to talk about my cancer journey at this conference, and decide that I did not want to mention it during either of my presentations. It is so much a part of me, that it does come out when I talk to people in a small group setting, but alas, this conference didn’t have many of those opportunities.

The stories of connection that I talked about were stories of academic collaborations across institutions, cultures, geographic locations, and philosophical stances. Specifically, I talked about two such collaborations – the MobiMOOC Research team and the #rhizo14/5 ANT Technology collaboration. Interestingly, my friend Maha Bali forwarded a call from Alan Levine about stories of connection. This isn’t a video, and my stories of connection that don’t involve my cancer story are not quite as deep as those that do, I thought it might still be of use.

I had put together a speech to give, but as I stood in front of the audience I realized I could not read my notes. My vision was not good enough for me to see my iPad while I spoke – mental note for next time, make text bigger. Instead, I talked from my heart and hopefully communicated the key points.  Thankfully, I had practiced my speech several times, so I knew what I wanted to say. I shall share with you now the text that I presented.


Hi, I am Rebecca Hogue. I live in sunny Santa Clara California. I’m a blogger, a scholar, an educator, and aspiring writer. For the purposes of this presentation, I’m my unaffiliated self. My field of study is education.

In the first year of my PhD I discovered, through Twitter, a free open online course on mobile learning, known as MobiMOOC. This was 2011 – before the Stanford AI MOOC changed the landscape of what we now call MOOCs. Back them, MOOCs were created using a learning theory known an connectivism. The purpose of the course was less about the content of the course and more about creating opportunity for people to make meaningful connections.  It was through this experience that I saw an opportunity for international collaboration. The organizer of the MOOC, Inge deWaard, put out an open invitation for anyone who wanted to collaborate on a research paper relating to the MobiMOOC experience. Over the next couple of years, myself and six others (mostly novice researchers, none of whom had met each other in person, residing in six different countries) – known as the MobiMOOC Research Team (MRT) – wrote and published four journal articles and two conference papers. When our first paper was accepted at the iamLearn mobile Learning conference in Beijing, I had the opportunity to meet a couple of the MRT members for the first time. I was extra honoured when our paper won a best paper award. These early collaborations used traditional round-robin methods (each person taking their turn with the document). One at a time, editing the document. We did this without a single phone call or synchronous chat.

Fast forward four years, I am now working with a great new group of people on various academic papers and presentations surrounding the Rhizomatic Learning MOOCs of 2014 and 2015. Each collaboration has a slightly different group of people). With the help of Google Docs, we write in a very different way – we call it swarm writing – where anybody can edit any portion of the document at any time. There is no need to manage who is editing the document when – at least not until the document is in its final stages of revision. In addition, we can have conversations about various ideas in the comments or margins of the document. It has changed international collaboration from what I would call cooperation to what truly feels like collaboration. When we write together, and have discussions in the comments/margins of the document, we learn more about each other. In addition, other social media tools, such as Facebook and Twitter, have allowed us to have ‘water cooler’ conversations – such that we know each other on a different level – we see the merging of professional and personal spaces allowing us to develop a better understanding of the lenses that affect each of our contributions to the collaboration. This too is changing how we collaborate.

Online communities and networked scholarship have given me opportunities to participate in scholarly activities – and international research – without the need for special introductions – it wasn’t about who I knew, rather, it was about who I was willing to get to know. Social media gave me a way to access collaborators.  It has opened doors and is why I’m sitting here talking to you today.

So, my question for anyone who has been involved in cross cultural/institutional collaborations, what challenges have you experienced with cross cultural/institutional collaborations? What do you do to help overcome those challenges?



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