Thursday, 22 May 2008

my journey into social media and why I became an evangelist


Karyn Romeis is working on a dissertation exploring the impact of the use of social media on the professional practice of learning professionals. Karyn would like to know your story as well, so add to her blogpost. The questions she would like to see answered:
  • How did you get started with social media?
  • What was your introduction, and how did the journey unfold?
  • What difference has it made in your professional practice?
How did I get started with social media?

First a quick profile: Inge de Waard, working as eLearning coordinator and researcher at the Institute of Tropical Medicine in Antwerp, Belgium. Providing e-courses to post-graduate medical students in the field (= international and in low resource areas working on tropical diseases).

My first personal dive into social media was because I had a rough time figuring out what I wanted to do with my life and especially whether the different route I was taking (getting a new degree) was worth the energy. So I started posting on the topic (very much diary stuff) because that way I could see what blogging was all about. This was a closed blog (shy). This resulted in a podcast with a couple of other people that also started studying again. The podcast was distributed old school, which started me thinking about other ways.

The first team endeavour was when I followed Mandarin in evening school (2005). We (the students) wanted to consult each other in between classes, so I put up a team blog where all the students could post or comment on. This was an unimagined success, so much so that the school started with a complete platform adding social media features.

At this point I got a new job which was starting up an eLearning course and building a future strategy for learning ... on my own. Within my new professional environment I was the only eLearner and techy with an interest in social media. So if I wanted to know more about eLearning I could choose: reading books, getting a network going with people outside my working environment, surfing with focus to discover new knowledge. I needed to connect above all, because I was the only eLearning professional in my working environment.

I decided to do it all. Reading books was great, but I soon discovered that on the edge knowledge in this rather new area of expertise was not print ready. The books were seldom tailored to my questions (eLearning in low resource areas) . The knowledge I needed was stored in other specialists brains. So networking seemed to me to be the best way to get to the knowledge I needed. This is when I started my professional blog. This blog would be my growing archive off my knowledge (my personal knowledge track) and my business card with surplus to get active in networks.
I looked expert communities and found: SCoPE, InternetTime, College2.0 and recently LearningTown to be very informative and great places to learn what I needed to catch up on (or stay on top with).

Social media is of course all about commenting and collaborating. This simple fact means I had to write my thoughts down before posting them, which meant I thought twice before sending it. Social media helped me reflect more intense on the topics I was working on.

This reflection was an immediate benefit for the papers I wanted to write, being out there with professional content meant that other peers could see what I was working on and start building trust (if they liked what I was working on) and this meant IRL collaborations started happening. So yes, social media made and makes a big difference in my personal and professional life.

Social media also saved me from future embarrassment: a bigger then life benefit came from using social media. At a certain point I believed some research that I was reading, it was not much, just a small slide that I picked up and that was used by a couple of renowned researchers. The statistics on this slide were faulty, but I did not know this so I posted the slide in a slideshare. On doing this one of the peers I connected to remarked that that particular slide was a fraud and he directed me to the correct statistics. This really told me a big lesson! First of all even if I read research of renowned researchers I am double checking it now more then ever, secondly peers can keep you on track big time!
Effect on others at my workplace
In my workplace people started to embrace social media depending on their character. If they were early adopters, chances would be very real that they would embrace it. If they were sceptics chances were that they would try it and reject it.

Social media is based on certain personal qualities:
  • being able to communicate clearly,
  • being tolerant towards criticism,
  • being able to find and filter/synthesize the right content,
  • being ready to open up even if that means you show your strengths and weaknesses in your professional work
  • being creative.
Some of the people at my workplace started their own team blogs, others just use one part of social media (social bookmarking is very 'in')...
It is not welcomed everywhere, but the effect of wikipedia is getting to be well known, so social media is gaining supporters.

Something that works in a lot of cases to get people into social media: show them examples from successful projects in the developing world. Or as I like to tell them when I show those success stories: "The world is becoming smaller, the developing world is more creative, so they have the future!" (I believe in decreasing the digital divide)

Knowledge is exploding social media enables scientists to keep on top of the scientific work and keep it fresh.
As Jean-Claude Bradley (an open science guru) recently remarked in a SCoPE forum: "In many fields related to rapidly evolving patterns of behavior, social
software is often the only source for relevant content because of the delays
in traditional publication. I had a situation where I submitted a paper to a
traditional publisher and by the time all the reviewer comments came in and
were addressed the article was obsolete! Luckily I had been systematically
updating my work on my blog and wiki so the information still made it out to
those who needed it."

It is a rough ride at times (time consuming, changes galore...) but I still find it very useful to construct my own knowledge, engage in lifelong learning, keeping in contact with brainy people, getting ideas analysed and commented on.

Cartoon from http://asbojesus.wordpress.com/