This past week, I had the pleasure to present the keynote at the Academic Affairs Symposium for Rasmussen College in Minneapolis, MN and Tampa, FL. The back-to-back events came on the heels of my attendance at the Online Teaching Conference (OTC) in San Diego, CA, providing for a flurry of a travel for the week, but also some immersive conversations.  Lynda Weinman of Lynda.com was one of the keynote presenters at the OTC (watch the archive of her talk here).

I had heard Weinman speak at the MoblEd Conference at Pasadena College in 2009, but that presentation did not share her personal learning journey. Weinman’s story was captivating and held so many poignant lessons for educators today — from embracing our inner passions, recognizing that we’re all good at something (and it’s not going to always be reading, writing, or math), sharing the values she took away from her alternative higher education experiences at Evergreen State College where there are no grades, acknowledging that it was feminism that empowered her to recognize that she could truly be whatever she wanted to be in this amazing world, and being candid about the challenges of raising a child and being a successful professional.

Weinman’s presentation had the conference attendees on their feet. It was not filled with cutting edge terms or glitzy tools. It was grounded in her real life journey, the raw experiences that make her human. 

After that moment in the audience, I knew I had some work to do on my own keynote presentation for Rasmussen, which would be shared at a symposium themed, “The Human Element in a Digital World.”  I had already planned to open my presentation with a story about my son’s very first video he recorded at age 7 after receiving his first hand held video camera for Christmas. He came to me and said, “Mommy, I made a video. Will you put it on YouTube?” Not really knowing much about YouTube at the time other than it was a website where people could share videos (which I valued as “pointless”), my parenting instincts replied with red flags. What does one do with that question? Ultimately, I obliged…taking a risk. You see, the video he recorded was a screencast of his handheld DS video game, showing the evolution of a Pokemon character. My son, at age 7, the very day he received his first video camera, was intrinsically driven to record this “screencast” and share it back to the same digital community from which he had learned to play Pokemon. He was teaching…in a global community.

Before long, comments came in on the video to which he commented back. There he was, age 7, engaging in a global dialogue with his personal learning network — explaining where to find find Barboach to other players. Today, the video has more than 18,000 views. My son is almost 14 now, has a collaborative YouTube channel with a friend, and still looks back on that video with great pride.

Sadly, his formal learning has not kept in line with the type of connected learning he experiences in his informal learning. This is a problem today. Education is not the same as learning (another key phrase I picked up from Weinman’s keynote) and this problem drains the relevance, as well as the passion from students.

The gap between learning and education is widening as the workplace for which we prepare our students for (one of, but not the only, objective of higher education) continues to shift to the social era.  Gartner predicts that by 2016 many large organizations will begin the adoption of social networks as a form of interaction that will significantly supplant the use of phones and email.  Value in the social era is cultivated around openness, collaboration, shared visions, and transparency. Those who demonstrate their ability to foster relationships through social technologies will be one step ahead of the rest.

But forming professional relationships via social technologies is an outcome that stems, first, from an individual’s ability to understand who she is, what she loves to do, and what intrinsically drives her.  How else does one know who to connect with?  These are the factors — the golden nuggets of life — that are lost in today’s educational system.  An individual won’t create a blog, start to Tweet about a consistent and relevant topic, or even re-share existing web content through curation tools if one does not have a sense of where she fits into this world. And that is the fundamental problem with education.

In my keynote for Rasmussen, Risking It All: Learning in the Social Era, I attempted to highlight these issues but I also tried to frame them around my own story.  I shared the fortuitive psychological derailment (I really don’t have better words to explain it!) that emerged after I had open heart surgery at age 34 when my children were 3 and 5. Three years after that surgery, I voluntarily resigned from my tenured teaching position at a community college, which I really thought was a job I’d keep forever.  I found myself with a new calling that involved supporting and discovering the role of online learning in higher education and I knew that I needed to find a new position to follow this calling.  I accepted a new role about 200 miles away and relocated my family. The position didn’t work out. Seven months later, I resigned and had no job. Crazy? Stupid? Maybe.

I turned to my social networks, continued to blog, increased my Twitter network, and literally started to create small jobs for myself. This process took me to dark, scary places but it also brought me face-to-face with figuring out who I really was and what I wanted to do every day. I tried things — many jobs.  Some lasted longer than others but duration was no longer how I measured success; for I understand that every step I was taking was a critical part of my learning journey. Failure really is the best teacher.

Another realization I have had through this journey of mine is how grateful I am for experiencing the type of real-life job search college graduates have today (and my own children have ahead of them).  I feel more empowered to stress the value of social media in the higher education learning landscape because

  1. Personal and professional success will improve if individuals can demonstrate how to create value in the social era 
  2. By fostering one’s social presence one engages in a reflective and challenging conversation in a public platform that begins to help us become agile and adaptive professionals, while discovering our strengths and motivations

Today, I feel most fortunate to have found a culture at CSU Channel Islands under the leadership of Michael Berman, that genuinely takes risks — as opposed to just talking about how we all should be taking risks. I am one of those risks. In March, CSU Channel Islands hired me remotely to support their faculty in their efforts to develop high quality, humanized online learning.  I feel grateful to be able to pursue my passion, share my talents with my new team, work closely with amazing educators, have the support and flexibility to share my ideas as a speaker, and not need to uproot my family again.

I believe educators must engage actively with social technologies to understand how value is constructed differently in the social era. Without this experiential learning, the mainstream perceptions of Twitter as nothing more than a hedonistic, superficial playground for celebrities and their followers will never be overturned. My engagement with social media has empowered me to learn a great deal about myself and allowed me to reconceptualize the idea of a “career.”  I view my life now as a fractal, ever shifting and in a perpetual state of change.  As I look back and learn from my experiences, I understand that I cannot control the future. I can only prepare for it. And the best way to prepare for change is to consistently be genuine to myself, be good to others, and learn from absolutely everything.  This is the life — the personal and professional life — that more, rather than fewer, of our future college graduates will experience. 

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