When a hashtag IS your collaborative network

by Pam Hook on May 3, 2015

in Artichoke Blog, Books, SOLO Taxonomy

Action Research Bk 1Dead chuffed this month to share the results of an online connection and collaboration with two fab UK educators – Simon Wall and Rob Manger. I have never met Simon and Rob, never talked to Simon and Rob and would not recognise them if I waited with them at the deli counter in my local supermarket – and yet using Google docs we have written a book together.

Hook, P., Wall, S. and Manger, R. (2015). An Action Research Project with SOLO Taxonomy. How to introduce and use SOLO as a model of learning across a school. Essential Resources Educational Publishers Limited. New Zealand.

What I like best about this collaboration is the way it was prompted by such a small patch of grass.

I have lost count of the number of huge online “Field of Dream” environments that have been built by institutions to foster collaboration between educators in NZ (and elsewhere) in the last 15 years. It seems fair to claim that “if you build it he will come” thinking is alive and continues to be extraordinarily well funded in the NZ education sector. And in my experience – when “he” does not come – the builders and their apprentices are quick to make “the coming” mandatory – to make “the coming” some condition of belonging to a cluster, a Ministry of Education contract or job description –to seek a positional permanence to justify the dollars sunk in the building process.

When I started building much smaller and less expensive patches of grass – online spaces – webpages, blogs and wikis – in the late 1990’s early 2000’s – I had to teach myself HyperText Markup Language (HTML) and get a handle on using simple markup languages for wikis. Perhaps because it was harder to build an online space there were fewer of them around and it seemed easier to attract rich online conversation and community. Nowadays building a website, blog, wiki or signing up for Twitter is as easy as ordering Subway. However, encouraging others to frequent your small patch of grass, to exchange comment and build community has become more challenging. It seems we are all too busy rolling and clipping our own turf.

You can understand why the official architects of those big “Field of Dreams” are in trouble: when you realise that nowadays instead of posting comment or uploading content to a “Field of Dreams” we prefer to build our own; when only the most generous of us leave comment and even this is apt to include a “read more” hyperlink back to our own patch of turf; and we find responding to the interesting Tweets of others too arduous so more usually simply hit RT and/or favourite.

The act of growing an online space where you hope reputational, institutional and/or financial advantage will follow has remained much the same over the years – and if you read the online advice – branding, marketing, offering 10 top tips/future trends, linking your site or post name to #Kardashians, making “Pinky and the Brain” claims to world domination and or buying followers all help. But in the end if you want a measure of skilled and active community – the numbers mean nothing – it is the balance between the content creators and content consumers that matters.

Institutions and individuals who continue to behave like the cartographers in Jorge Luis Borges’ “Everything and nothing” – forever creating and then recreating online “Fields of Dreams” that purport to “permanently” provide for everyone’s needs will undoubtedly meet with a similar outcome as the Cartographers Guilds.

In that Empire, the Art of Cartography attained such Perfection that the Map of a single Province occupied the entirety of a City, and the map of the Empire, the entirety of a Province. In time, those Unconscionable Maps no longer satisfied, and the Cartographers Guilds struck a Map of the Empire whose size was that of the Empire, and which coincided point for point with it. The following Generations, who were not so fond of the Study of Cartography as their Forebears had been, saw that that vast Map was Useless, and not without some Pitilessness was it, that they delivered it up to the Inclemencies of Sun and Winters. In the Deserts of the West, still today, there are Tattered Ruins of that Map, inhabited by Animals and Beggars; in all the Land there is no other Relic of the Disciplines of Geography. Jorge Luis Borges. Everything and nothing. New York: New Directions, 1988.

My experience has led me on a different path to that of the Cartographers Guild. I support a looser, messier, more eclectic approach to building community – one where rich and temporary connections are facilitated through folksonomy or social tagging. I do not believe online “Fields of Dreams” designed to “capture the whole empire” in perpetuity – are sought after by teachers – or for that matter are necessary for community. I build small patches of grass and use the hashtag to help build adaptive learning networks and communities.

For example, when I dissolved my previous business partnership in 2011 I had to take down an active online community and start again from scratch. It was painful to give it all away because I knew the hours of my life that had gone into building the connections – the online content – and online comments –the community. But in life it is best to look forwards – I purchased a new domain name, built a new WordPress website – found a replacement platform for my “SlideShare” presentation followers, another channel for YouTube followers, built an archive dokuwiki to replace the old wikispaces one, built another dokuwiki for the new consultancy, replaced my Del.icio.us community with a Diigo community and so on.

When it came to rebuilding a Twitter community I was worn out. I chose to open my personal Twitter account to continue my consultancy work. It was a risk – but I believed that the hash tag #SOLOTaxonomy could become my network and that a name like @arti_choke would not be a barrier if the content I shared had value.

Using #SOLOTaxonomy in my @arti-choke Twitter account has enabled me to forge rich reciprocal connections with primary, secondary and tertiary educators from all over the world. And these “patch of grass” connections through #solotaxonomy have led to extensive professional networks and collaborations one of which resulted in the co-authored book published by Essential Resources this month.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Sonya Van Schaijik May 18, 2015 at %I:%M %p

As I read this @arti_choke I smiled in memories of living a similar process of learning how to use those mandated communities and then trying to convince staff. Every year a new mandated tool. Even this year we have another new tool to test and trial to add to the pile of other patches of grass growing weeds. Every so often I go in and pull a few weeds and turn the soil and plant some more teachers into the mandated patches. When teachers plant their own patch and water their own turf, that is when the magic happens.


Leave a Comment


Previous post:

Next post: