Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Some worries about the increasing importance of strategic engagement with technology

My blogging practice is strategic in two principal ways. Firstly, I think aloud, and in posting my thoughts I am able to track my own personal development, the development of my ideas (which I would forget), and to create a resource which is readily to-hand which allows me to situate my current thinking with my previous development.  Those are the 'personal strategic' aspects of my practice.

But then there are the 'social strategic' aspects, which are equally important. These are the aspects of managing reputation, gaining information about the community which I engage with, personal steering through monitoring analytics, building and maintaining social capital.

As an academic, these two strategic games are not entirely new or purely the result of our present social technologies. Publication in journals has traditionally been the way that academics act strategically. There too, there is an aspect of 'thinking aloud' together with an aspect of 'social strategy'. The same can be said for engagement with learned societies. What's been interesting with the advent of social networking is that the traditional academic practices of publication have been taken-up by individuals who exist outside the traditional academic domain. Many more people are engaging in publication practices practices through the web, and these are strategic in a similar way to academic publication.

It is also significant that social software appears to be on a trajectory where it will overtake traditional publication for academics themselves. The boundaries are already becoming blurred with self-publishing, e-books, etc. Crowdsourcing rather than peer review, data analytics and search and discovery is becoming increasingly important in determining the concrete career advantages to academics as well as professionals outside the academic space.

The disadvantages of this are important. Close analysis, careful criticism and the scholarly voice can be drowned out in the crowd. In a celebrity-dominated culture, we should worry about this, because knowledge, critique, freedom of expression and scholarship are essential components of civic society. There are signs that the wisdom of the crowd is having a serious effect on the level of academic discourse - particularly with the rise of "celebrity academics" (mostly in the social sciences) whose scholarly achievements are less significant than their presentation skills (what on earth is Andrew Marr doing presenting a TV series on world history??)

But the academic game has traditionally been linked to one's success in finding employment. Celebrity academics also seek employment. But increasingly, for any professional this is becoming essential. For  young people embarking on their life journey, the question may increasingly be "do I play the academic game or do I act strategically with technology?" (although it obviously isn't a stark choice between the two). Given that education is expensive, the technological route is enticing.

Sensible advice might be to do both. But I do believe that the technology route will become increasingly important. Strategic engagement with social software services like LinkedIn are clearly related to professional progress and access to employment. As the conscious practice of all professional orients around the web, your professional identity may be worth little unless you can be discovered through Google.

But this is a problem.

Strategic engagement with technology depends on affective development in the individual whereby a level of self confidence is developed which facilitates it (posting blogs, engaging with LinkedIn, tagging things that you do, etc). This is likely to only exist in those instances where individuals come from families which encourage them to be proactive in their dealings with the world. It may be the product of increased levels of education, although even now, many academics are ambivalent about online engagement of their students. And insisting on it often can hit the same emotional barriers in staff and students.

We should be careful not to assume that strategic engagement with technology can 'just happen'. It happens because the disposition to engage strategically is already present, and this depends on the emotional management of the  individual. Not appreciating this is dangerous.

The rise of technology and the apparent importance of strategic engagement with technology for raising social capital may well suggest structural adaptations by the education system: the world of MOOCs will be upon us. If this is done on the assumption that technology is freely available and preferable to traditional educational structures, then this, I believe, will increase problems of social mobility. MOOCs are deficient not least because the emotional predisposition to engage is the product of family and upbringing. Without the home background and emotional stability to engage with technology strategically, then technological engagement will divide between social classes.

It is part of the job of education to provide emotional support. A functionalist view of education overlooks this fact, and tends towards the conviction that technology can do it all. It can't. The removal of traditional educational structures in favour of technology will only deepen the human crisis that so obviously surrounds us at the moment.

1 comment:

Martti Puttonen said...

It does much help for having and arguing about optimal and individual balance between cognitive, affective, and connative developmental outcomes in personal behavioral dispositions, if psychologigal approach and conceptualization about an individual's behavioral dispositions is limited and even dualistic in idealizing all dispositions as optimally attained enstates. The same dualist misconception might emerge is to argue that distant and online learning are not enough for selfregulated or metacogniteve learning when learning or teaching become preformulated as a specific token thing. Martti Puttonen