Generating ambient intimacy

Maybe it sounds a bit too touchy feely, but I’ve been thinking more and more that there’s a need for a place in an educational setting where there are opportunities for students and faculty to create a feeling of connectedness, a spot for sharing and belonging.

The hyper public world has created such places. Intimate strangers from diverse backgrounds and locations are frequently (and cosily) talking to each other on a variety of platforms about their life experiences without the normal time and space constraints that come with direct engagement or interaction.

In University courses, many VLE’s offer tools (blogs, chat, forums etc) , that could create feelings of connection and interaction between students. From what I’ve seen, such engagement is rare. Distributed and personal relationships seem to develop, not because of the tools but because people have elected to “expose more surface area” and add their everyday facts, places, comments, feelings, significant others, etc to their own micro-blogs, social networking sites, media sharing sites. Connections have happened because people have wanted to develop “an understanding of the activities of others, which provides a context for your own activity”. A sense of awareness of the presence of an interaction partner is what creates “ambient intimacy”  – Leisa Reichelt

Students could start to feel connected when the medium that they are using allows its users interpersonal interactions. Conversely, class members feel isolated and group dynamics suffer when social connections are not encouraged. Social (co)-presence is explored more formally by Short, Williams and Christie in their book, The Social Psychology of Telecommunications. Although I have not got access to their book, Steve Wheeler and Ruth Rettie’s research have helped me understand that social presence essentilly the ability to project yourself via another medium” (Justin M. Bonzo describes Ruth’s work better than I can). Essentially social presence is a process by which person comes to know and think about other persons, their characteristics, qualities and inner states. Increased social presence leads to a better person perception. Within education, this capacity to be “real” has become a significant factor for creating a sense of community within a course.

Getting back to the point. My original intention behind this post is to get my collegues to start to think about their social presence. While I’m not sure how you start making people aware of the possible presence of an interaction partner, I thought that this exercise for social workers by Barry Cooper & Maggie Pickering from the PPBL PIVOT Project from the Open University had possibilities and I have adapted it so that they may start thinking about developing their professional identity. If you are interested, please take a look at The Commemorative Trophy for Amazing Knowledge Work. As always, comments would be appreciated.

Where in the world is Witsy

This weekend, I thought I’d entertain myself with telling my weekends story to ..umm… well to myself. You know the the theory – location based social networking allows you to share your real-time location with those in your network. And since it’s geting harder and harder to stay disconnected, I decided to take out my new mobile phone, installed Google Maps, and Geolocate myself during my explorations to the Constitutional Court, a booklaunch of Inside Joburg by Nechama Brodie at the Boekehuis bookstore and a short little visit to O.R. Tambo Airport to pick up tickets. While the recent launch of Google streetview has prompted concerns about privacy, I ignored the issues and mapped my location using the phone’s GPS system, took photos with the 2 mega pixel camera and uploaded comments about the location and image to Buzz.

Geolocation is certainly not exclusive to Google.  Foursquare, an application that combines city-guides and social networking, has turned location based social networking into a game. Repeated users of Foursquare get rewards for doing interesting things. They earn points  by checking in at their current location, discovering new places and sharing tips. Those that make repeated use of the service earn badges and if you’ve been to a place more than anyone else, you’ll be crowned the “The Mayor” of that place.

I’ve been looking at how we can use mobile phones to introduce new students into knowledge resources on campus (the library, the LAN) and encourage them to  make this corner of Jozi their new home. After my weekends solitary fun, I am looking at the possibilities of using Foursquare to help new students to explore their campus, its facilities and surrounding places of interest. The idea, I’m afraid, is not mine. Kyle James introduces the concept,  Harvard has included this platform along with Twitter and Facebook, Indiana University Library is exploring foursquare in certain weeks. Since its launch, Foursquare has accumulated over 1 Million users in one year (Twitter took 2 years to this reach this point ). While orientation my be our initial intention, an interconnected community of people, ideas, and experiences could result if the students take to the concept. Sounds like a bit more fun than my solidary weekend with my phone for company.

My first week in Jozi

Welcome to Wits

With the sound of afternoon traffic, an amplified African guitar and the evening sun inviting me to knock off from work, I thought I’d take a breath and reflect on the memorable, exciting and sad moments since being appointed to the eLearning, Support and Innovation Unit at Wits University on June 1.

With the 2010 Soccer World Cup round the corner, the excitement is palpable. Car flags wave, buildings are plastered with adverts, lampposts hold banners and soccer T shirts loudly proclaim their wearers loyalty to various national teams. Conversations around me are peppered with who has tickets for what, whether Bennie was really fat and where will you be watching the games from.

I’ve also been wonderfully welcomed, orientated, introduced, processed etc by people within the University and up in the city. Opportunities to connect with people and their work are welcomed occasions and I relish fresh collaboration prospects that may (to use a terrible phrase) “add value” to the universities work. Already there are three possible initiatives that I might be involved in:
• QR codes on University signage
• E Learning and Digital literacy resources for the library
• The curricular possibilities of ‘One Computing Device Per Student’

The memorable and stimulating moments have to share some space with a poignant loss of intimacy between Jean, Anna, Cara and myself. Despite the alleged glamour of a bachelor life in Jozi, sometimes I find myself choked up with longing as l miss my daughters and partner.

It is, however, with gratitude that I pack up for the week. My appreciation for friends that have made me feel welcome, colleagues that have invited me to participate with them on their projects and Wits University for employing me to learn work and get paid in an exciting and dynamic field is heartfelt. I’m looking forward to Monday.