Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Creating your own advising social networks

So, when Allen asked me to write something about Facebook, I got kind of excited as I haven’t really presented solely on the topic in some time. A colleague and I just had a chapter published in a book on Social Media in Higher Education—we spent much of last spring writing it, but that’s the last time I really intellectualized on the topic.

by MrTopf (license)
I’m atypical, I think, amongst advisors on Facebook in that I go out of my way to initiate the on-line friendship with my students. It’s a deliberate relationship I’m interested in forging with my students and I do so with some key qualities of that relationship in mind, as encouraged by an author my co-author introduced to me—Laurent Daloz—who has rapidly become one of my all-time favorites. Daloz writes most frequently from the perspective of a mentor to adult learners—the same perspective my co-authors holds—but we quickly found the transitions we advise our respective populations through were remarkably similar. You’ll have to read the chapter to find out how, but let me move on to the qualities of good mentoring/advising that I think are easily fostered in on-line environments.

“Trust between people is the key to learning and development. Our students need to trust us – to know that we are present to support their growth and not to play "gotcha"; that we will push them, many times, to places that are uncomfortable, but that we will be there to support them as well. With great intention we strive to engender trust with our students, see their movement, give them a voice, carefully introduce conflict, challenge their taken-for-granted ideas, watch for their growth, and emphasize their positive movements (Daloz, 1999, pp. 123-124). In doing so, we are also careful, as Daloz suggested, to monitor and reflect on our relationships with students. As we have gradually implemented Web 2.0 tools into our daily work, we have been even more highly reflective about our practices. “

I’m a dedicatee to the act of face-to-face (f2f) advising and truly believe it’s where I do my best work, but my use of Facebook, YouTube, and my blog extends my opportunities to engage and build trust with my student population. Social Media, and Facebook in particular, supports my f2f relationship-building activities.

“Daloz’s (1999) concern about technology: “More, faster, and farther seem to be the driving values. Thus entangled in the Internet, spun about at hyperspeed, drowning in information, starved by virtual reality, should we wonder that we hunger for real reality? Can such technology nourish our need for community, intimacy, contemplative time, wisdom?” (p. xxv). Daloz sincerely questioned if technology could in fact support “good mentoring.” A mere eleven years later, we answer with a resounding "Yes!"

“Pedagogy 2.0," coined by McLoughlin & Lee in 2008, refers to the use of social media to "enable the development of dynamic communities of learning through connectivity, communication, and participation" (p. 3). Pedagogy 2.0 is situated in connectivism (Siemens, 2004), by which learning is a process "of creating a network of personal knowledge, a view that is congruent with the ways in which people engage in socialization and interaction in the Web 2.0 world – a world that links minds, communities, and ideas while promoting personalization, collaboration, and creativity" (McLoughlin & Lee, 2008, p. 2). My co-author and I use the term "Mentoring 2.0" -- an educational approach that we also ground in connectivism.

“Leslie and Landon (2008) contended that when Web 2.0 technologies work, "it is often because the right conditions that allow networks to grow exist" (p. 4). We propose that many of the conditions that allow these technologies to work and grow are similar conditions that allow good learning to work and students to "grow" in higher educational settings. Conditions such as trust, dialogue, motivation, collaboration, input, guidance, and a sense of connectedness and community that support learning and growth for students in higher education are conditions that social media can enable and, in fact, promote. In essence, these are the conditions provided by good educational mentors (Daloz, 1999; Nakamura & Shernff, 2009).”

Finally, there’s the concept of ambient intimacy, proffered by Reichelt in 2007. Ambient intimacy facilitates “being able to keep in touch with people with a level of regularity and intimacy that you wouldn’t usually have access to, because time and space conspire to make it impossible” (para. 3). Social media has always afforded me ways to have “regularity and intimacy” with my students, to be conversational and dialogical with them, to engage in collaboration, to have openness, connectedness, and community with and among them. These tools can be used to extend face-to-face relationships and can make them more meaningful and impactful. These tools also help you shift the power relationship that is typically found between instructors or advisors and students in higher education—my goal is to foster a trust-based relationship that keeps me out of the “parent group” and “teacher group” in the eyes of my advisees.

My personal advising style is such that I only manage a personal profile on Facebook. I initiate "friendship" with my students in the network and behave myself as though I'm a guest in their environment. The internet is about choice, and when my students chose to trust I'm not there to spy on them or list prohibited behavior, they're investing large amounts of Social Capitol (or whuffie) in me. And being in their environments isn't as frightening as many of you might be thinking. Being Facebook Friends with my students merely requires me to set up friend lists, direct whatever content I'm pushing to appropriate audiences, and remember that I'm the professional in control of conversations with students no matter where that conversation is taking place--"face to face to Facebook to Facebook" as our Keynote Speaker Peter Hagen once said to me.

Facebook, social networks and other social media applications feature prominently in the Applied Technology Pre Conference Workshop and two follow up Concurrent Sessions (Thursday at 3:45 and Friday at 10:30), so if this stuff really interests you, attend any or all of them. Or catch me at the conference and ask me about Whuffie!


Daloz, L. A. (1999). Mentor: Guiding the journey of adult learners. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Leslie, S. & Landon, B. (2008). Social software for learning: What is it, why use it? Report for the Observatory on Borderless Higher Education, OBHE, London.

Nakamura, J., & Shernoff, D.J. (2009). Good mentoring: Fostering excellent practice in higher education. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

McLoughlin, C. & Lee, M.J.W. (2008). Future learning landscapes: Transforming pedagogy through social software. Innovate Online, 4. Retrieved from http://www.innovateonline.info/pdf/vol4_issue5/Future_Learning_Landscapes

__Transforming_Pedagogy_through_Social_Software.pdf Siemens, G. (2004). Connectivism: A learning theory for the digital age. Retrieved from http://www.elearnspace.org/Articles/connectivism.htm

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