Sunday, September 28, 2014

Unit 2: Online Motivators... and Demotivators

I very much enjoyed reading through Jonathan's Trust and Network Fluency page.  This is a topic of great interest to me as someone who is SO GRATEFUL to have an online network... but also SO BAFFLED as to why very few of my colleagues seem to be interested in online networking. So, my own personal goal for this unit would be to try to gain some greater insight into that conundrum: how is it that faculty can be very much in touch with their "nerd-selves" (as Jonthan puts it so nicely!) yet at the same time be apparently so uninterested in participating in online networks...?

Don't get me wrong: of course there are thousands and thousands and thousands of academics who are out there blogging, tweeting, networking in all kinds of ways. I participate in a very active network of what must be a hundred or so people that I interact with on a very regular basis (Google+ is my main hangout), and the people I feel connected to in my network are almost always, in turn, participating in networks of their own, so I get the benefit of what they share that I would not see otherwise, etc. etc. It's wonderful!

At the same time, there are 1500 full-time faculty members (I think that is the right number) at the public university where I teach, but very few of them have any public online presence at all. Indeed, for many of them the top search result for their name turns out to be their page at Ouch. That is surely not a good thing. Yet at the same time, the tools for getting online and connecting with others have never been more abundant or easier to use, just as Jonathan points out in his overview for Unit 2 here.

Likewise, there was a great piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education (the CHRONICLE for crying out loud: about as mainstream and middle-of-the-road as it gets for academia) that took up this same idea that there's never been a better time to get online: Brian Croxall's How to Overcome What Scares Us About Our Online Identities. Yet Brian does not really answer the question as promised in that title. His answer is that there is nothing to fear (which is true), but if people's fears are largely irrational (as they are), simply telling them that there is nothing to fear is not going to be enough.

Here is the comment I left at the time (I don't often comment at Chronicle articles anymore, but this is a topic I really care about... so I left a comment there at what was a strangely lackluster discussion, even by Chronicle standards):

The thing I don't understand is that this is pretty obvious stuff, right? I think the resistance to online goes deeper than the fears listed here. In particular, I think it is PERFECTIONISM and the intense fear of making mistakes that permeates academia. Making a mistake ONLINE where anyone can see it... end of the world. So, it's not really a fear that someone will steal your ideas... rather, it is the fear that you will make a mistake and others will see it. That's my guess anyway. And that is a fear you cannot even admit publicly because, in addition to being perfectionists, we have to pretend that we are perfect already, so why would we ever fear making a mistake...? We never make mistakes.

Now, some months later, this is still my best guess as to the inhibiting factor that is the biggest barrier to faculty participating in online networks. But honestly, I'm really not sure. As a recovering perfectionist myself, I know that it can be a very powerful fear. But perhaps there are other irrational fears just as powerful or even more so. Jonathan emphasizes the idea of motivators ("love your nerd" - agree! that sounds great!), but I think we have to also tackle, somehow, the DE-motivators that keep faculty offline, and I still think that the fear of making mistakes and being shown publicly as less than perfect is one of the biggest demotivators.

My students, thankfully, do not have this same kind of inhibition at all, so I can really let the motivators be the driving force, emphasizing all the good reasons for them to put their work online and learn to "love their nerd." Without exception, students do a fantastic job in my classes of learning how to use new media (blogs, websites, etc.) to express themselves and share online. Admittedly, they are rarely as nerdy as I am.... but that's fine. A little nerdiness goes a long way!

With other faculty, though, it seems so hard to get any real forward momentum. I'm dreaming of a blog hub for my school (hub dream notes here), but of course I realize that it is just a dream, one which is probably doomed, UNLESS I can gain some real insight into how one helps faculty make that crucial first step to shedding their fears and getting online.

Since that happened to me so effortlessly (my own online saga here), I have ZERO insight. Maybe others can help! Is there anyone reading this who did overcome fears to become the online person they are today...? I would love to know how/why that happened for you! :-)

And on the subject of fear, I offer two very different Latin LOLCats:

Ignorance is the cause of fear.

I fear nothing.


  1. Laura, great blog (yet again--really enjoy reading your stuff). What if we started with a blog hub across schools? With faculty and students who may be less fearful in order to show what it looks like? Plus, we'd have the added advantage of broadening the network beyond our institutions. Wondering if there would be affordances to that approach?

  2. Thanks, Kim! I really see Google+ as being that hub, ha ha. I don't have any problems networking BEYOND my institution, which has been great: thank goodness! I'd be so lonely otherwise. My guess is that the people at my school want to do something school-connected, school-related. Although I could be wrong... I'm going to sound out this hub idea with the people running the Domains pilot next week. I've had a lot of luck with networking via Twitter with people from my school, and there is a strong sense of an "OU group" there at Twitter - not a formal group, since obviously it is public and porous, but a group-as-network in the sense that there are people who really do intersect there, share, connect, and do so often. So I can tell that there is a sense that people find a value in going beyond just the face-to-face and email which otherwise dominates (COMPLETELY dominates) school communications. But Twitter is what it is. 140 characters. Ephemeral. I would be sooooo glad to see some networking-beyond-Twitter at my school, and am prepared to take time out of my other networking life to facilitate and help in any way I can. My efforts to try to lure people to Google+ have not succeeded, and I also, sadly, do not seem to have lured anyone here to Connected Courses, which is truly a darn shame. i thought for sure with the Domains pilot there would be at least some takers! But I'll keep trying...!
    In terms of the topic of Unit 2, I was just thinking that maybe there would be more trust (and therefore less fear) if people were networking with others at their own institution...?
    That's not a feeling I have, but that's the problem here - I'm really in uncharted waters since I have very little personal insight into what these fears/demotivators really are!

  3. I recently presented at a conference in the UK and dealt with the issues you raise in your post. My reflections on meeting those academic ps ypu talk about

  4. Not sure what is happening with commenting...
    If you are interested in my presentation it was called On wrestling your inner mooc, the psychology of open. It is the post before the reflection link i just posted.
    I too have that dream you speak of and zero interest. Insight into why not helping :o)

  5. OH MY GOSH, Mariana, this is fantastic!!! I just read you rmonsters ("The more I try to engage faculty with the idea of open scholarship the more strongly I agree with David Wiley that it is our unwillingness to let go of invoking our 2-year old when it comes to our output that is at the core of our inability to learn and live in the open web" ... YES!!! letting go of our 2-year-old and embracing our inner nerd instead, ha ha) ... now I will go explore the wrestling one!!!

  6. Wow, Mariana, just wow: this is fantastic. Your wrestling piece has done not just one huge thing for me, but two things: I was hoping to hear someone else's journey and you have done that wonderfully here (I didn't really HAVE a journey, it just happened... which means I have not much insight into the journeys people do make)... and you have shared a ton of cool stuff here that is new to me in terms of conceptualizing fears and values. I love the FIRO chart and want to go explore that now; I've never seen that one before. So, I have even more links to follow, but I am going to go add these two posts to my list of online resources for this unit.
    Absolutely super-fabulous!
    I repeat: WOW.


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