Following up some earlier musings about the relation between 'new' social media practices and 'old' academic practices. (I will stop referring to these as 'new' and 'old' from hereon as I fear it makes me look like a relic)....
A colleague just sent me an email drawing my attention to a twitterstream and blog involving students on a course I'm currently directing. Against my better judgement I went and looked to see what they are saying, and yes - it is critical and I wish I hadn't because it sent me home in a bad mood.
Why did my colleague think it a good idea to point out to me that students were complaining about the course in public social media arenas?
The kinds of things they were saying are the kinds of things that students quite often say when they are getting frustrated by feelings of lack of progress, lack of support, lack of peer participation etc. They criticise the course design, the activity (or apparent lack of) of tutors and course director, the university assessment regulations etc. I have a lot of symathy with them, and when these kinds of issues are raised in the course community spaces (discussion forums, emails) I always take them seriously and do my best to respond positively.
So, why do I feel so negative about about having someone outside the course community point out that these criticisms are going on out there in netspace as well? More to the point, why I am so absolutely disinclined to get in and answer the criticisms out there?
Because I guess I think of the course as a community, that inhabits a shared space, and of the public social networks as somehow outside that space. And I feel bitter that the work I put in inside that space somehow becomes insignificant as soon as someone else goes out there and makes our problems public, inviting (as I see it) casual comment and fleeting attention from people who may have nothing invested in solving the problems and every interest in enjoying any controversy that results from them.
This isn't what my colleague or the students who are blogging are doing, of course. They are engaged in generating a different kind of community. But why should this community be more significant, more worthy of attention than the one that the course has been developing over 4 years of quite intense negotiation amongst course developers, tutors and successive cohorts of students?
Is this a microcosm of the tension we have been discussing - between the academy (with its hidebound communities, fossilised values and restrictive practices) and the 'liberated' net-savvy learner with their fast-shifting focus and opportunistic grabbing of attention wherever they can find it?