Australian Edu-Facebook

Since moving to Australia almost two years ago, I have been made to feel welcome. With an Ashes series starting this week, I reserve the right to change my mind, but it’s been an easy transition thus far. The social hierarchy and class structure is less pronounced than in the UK, though I’m pleased to note the obsession with where you went to School remains, at least in South Australia. People are easy-going, and the word ‘banter’ has yet to be corrupted as it has been in the UK. Some semblance of wit still remains.

It seems quite difficult to genuinely offend an Australian – that is, until one enters the world of education.

Education is complicated. There are relatively few absolute truths, it is difficult to say with certainty ‘what works’, and even the purpose of education is up for debate. Is it to provide skilled individuals for an uncertain future workforce, to create a community of cultured intellectuals, a bit of both or something different entirely? I think everyone who works in education should find it interesting to debate these ideas. I’d be surprised if anyone wasn’t interested in these ideas, given that we have all been to School, and must have some opinion on what education is for, and what constitutes a successful education.

Twitter is an excellent forum for education debate, and by this I refer to pre-planned debates such as happen on the #AussieEd hashtag. It allows people from different backgrounds and timezones to come together, make their points, support the views of strangers and challenge the views of colleagues. This all happens in a space where hierarchy is removed, where no single ‘voice’ can dominate. Ideas are promoted, and people are free to agree or disagree with these ideas. Ideas do not have feelings, and we should all be happy for our ideas to be challenged. We should be willing to defend our ideology, willing to take on board the wisdom of others, and willing to change our mind. If conflict is the problem, education is usually the answer, and by discussing ideas in education, we become more educated and hence more effective educators. I am grateful to those people who act as administrators for pre-arranged conversations to take place; these specifically arranged discussion topics help to keep the conversation on track. It also provides a space where it is natural to interact with strangers, those who see things from a different perspective and who might learn from you, as you may do from them.

It can be unnerving for a stranger to appear from the ether and take you to task over something you have posted, but if you post in a public forum (which is what I think Twitter should be), it is reasonable to receive comment or challenge.

But it doesn’t tend to happen like this. Australian education on Twitter seems to think it is Australian education on Facebook/Instagram. I know I shouldn’t tell people how to use social media, but the platforms (in general) serve a very different purpose. Facebook is about friends, likes and platitudes. A photo is posted; it garners likes from your friends, who write ‘awww’ or ‘so cute’ or ‘looking beautiful, lovely’. Everyone wins. This isn’t a debate, or a challenging of ideas. People don’t post critical comments under photos of babies. No-one expects their choice of Sharm as a holiday destination to be questioned. The etiquette of Facebook gives rise to a cycle of likes, shares and phatic commentary.

Australian edu-Twitter has a Facebook mentality; a mentality that say if I post a statement, I expect likes and platitudes. Here’s a statement:

 

And here’s another statement:

Maybe you agree with the statements and maybe you don’t. But when similar statements are made as part of an organised discussion on education, it should be possible to challenge those statements in a reasonable manner, rather than simply re-tweeting with a comment ‘This’.

Twitter is not Facebook. If you don’t want ideas you hold dear to be criticised, you are probably better off posting them on Facebook, preferably with a photo of your young family enjoying a holiday sunset. You can then gather all the ‘awww’s you like, without every being required to reflect on your position.

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9 thoughts on “Australian Edu-Facebook

  1. I think you’re right about the difference between the forms of social media. On the other hand, it’s about what you’re used to. So if you’re used to Twitter being an affirming medium, it could be quite confronting to be challenged about ideas. I cut my (Australian) Twitter teeth on UK eduTwitter because I wanted to learn more about new ideas, and that’s where they were. I like its cut-and-thrust, but I can see how it could seem aggressive. Sometimes it is aggressive.

    Some people found last Sunday’s AussieEd chat refreshing – they enjoyed the debate. Some didn’t. I’ve been wondering if the solution is a new hashtag. AussieEd could continue as a platform for sharing practice, and a different chat more explicitly about debating educational ideas could be opened up under a new name.

    • Good idea – I think #debatEd is taken, but that’s what I’m after. I’d much rather see debates at edu-conferences and even in common rooms (hierarchy aside). Maybe we could don togas and practise our rhetoric like the ancient Greeks?

      • #debatEDaus (or Oz) maybe?

        Consider starting up a new hash yourself. The beauty of Twitter is that you curate your own feed via the people you follow and engage with. For me #aussieEd has always been about sharing and celebrating shared ideas rather than debating them. There is definitely room for something else that brings people together to challenge ideas and opinions in a respectful manner.

        In my feed I see the guys you included as examples challenged by Aussie educators more often than they are retweeted or affirmed. I don’t see their posts otherwise.

        Enjoyed reading your post.
        Cheers

  2. A certain criticality and willingness to question worldviews and assumptions are as important as being open to having to defend your own perspectives. I find Twitter chats problematic for this reason and hence I rarely engage. I find it almost impossible to have a reasoned debate before someone pulls out the “but the evidence says” argument. Not many people in the world know exactly what the evidence says. I think what they are really saying is “the evidence that I am familiar with says” and then this is used to support their specific paradigm. The debate then quickly becomes simplistic and binary.
    Education is complicated indeed. Thanks Ben.

    Go Aussies.

  3. If an idea is “powerful” is up to me to decide, thanks. That you think it is powerful doesn’t make it so. (I don’t know anyone who thinks we assess to enhance learning — we do it to see if learning has taken place.)

    And that is why I hate Twitter. Pithy statement with absolutely no context, let alone nuance, and all I can do in reply is an equally short statement. “That rocks” or “Total red herring” doesn’t lead to civilised discussion, just more e-shouting.

    My advice is that wise people use Twitter to announce more cogent arguments in other places, and not use it to actually propose anything.

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