I spent the last few days sitting in various meeting rooms, talking to a great community of people whom I normally only interact with over Twitter or otherwise, and having a good bit of fun. I love the HighEdWeb conference. I missed it so much in 2009 when I was unable to attend. This year was just as much fun, if not more, as I'm no longer the new kid.But. My entire outlook on the web in Higher Education has changed. And I realized that it hasn't changed to be in line with the rest of the community.
I've realized I'm cynical. Well, when I think about the information presented at the conference I am. Don't get me wrong, some of what I listened to was great. But I realized that something has changed in my thinking.
See, as much as our community enjoys thinking we are being progressive and our respective institutions are the reason for our job challenges (great talk from @KarlynMB about why this is BS and we need to suck it up and learn how to take better control of our relationships with people), we do the same things. We are cogs in the slow processes, in slow adoption.
Being an MA student at The New School, and especially doing the degree all online, has really shaped the way I look at digital/convergence/participatory culture. At some point we need to come up with a better name for what has already happened.
In any case, this essay is not going to have answers to the questions I'm going to ask... at least not entirely. But I'm hoping I can bring some thoughts to the surface.
Our Focus Is Off
Honestly, as much as I'm a "social media" nerd, I can't help but feel we're moving past it. Now, I'm not saying it's going away or just a fad or anything like that. But what I am saying is that we focus on the media itself too much.
So many sessions this year were on the tools we use: Facebook, Geospatial tools, social media... But there wasn't much about where we're going. Of the talks I attended there was nothing about the cultural changes and ramifications of being so connected all of the time to everyone. And so we begin to talk about the cultural shift in terms of numbers, ROI and marketing campaigns. When the dust settles, Higher Ed goes back to tools.
Facebook. Twitter. Foursquare. Google Wave. Buzz. Mobile browsing. Geospatial awareness.
Okay fine. We know the landscape. We use these every day. If we want to be optimized to use them well there are thousands upon thousands of blog posts out there on cashing in on your favourite tool. But in the end we're focusing on the now. We're not looking ahead.
And the schools that are looking ahead win.
Digital versus Embodied Digital == Embodied
Convergence was a huge buzzword as participatory media became more prevalent. Henry Jenkins has been the sage for a long time on the convergence stuff and I believe it has finally happened.
This is where my grad school work comes in. Honestly, in HigherEd we are way too prone to thinking there is this separation of the embodied world and the digital world. Some of us still use words like "virtual" to describe campus tours and online programs... So I ask:
What is virtual about these things?
Honestly. Do we really think that our target audience has any thought whatsoever that the Internet is a thing, or a place they go to? McLuhan's ideas of media as an extension of man have taken a new shape. The Internet is no longer a noun in how we think about it - why do we still behave as though it is?
Convergence has already happened. We are already there. Anyone young enough to be coming up into college has been living as if there is no difference between digital and embodied. They participate, remix and create content as a part of everyday life. Their normal processes include all of this "social media" we are intent on breaking out into its own compartment.
What is Special About HighEdWeb
I love #heweb for the community. The group of people I get to see and interact with at the conference are what I look forward to the most. But in the end, we need to see some more original thinking. The stuff we talk about when hanging out and "networking" should bleed into what we do at work. And sometimes it does.
But let's start looking forward. We should be leading in the ways we use information to communicate. Let's stop getting bogged down in the tools and latest fads and start shaping the new trends.