This week has been busy as I devoted a lot of time to producing and editing material for the next issue of Lifewide Magazine on the theme of Reflecting in the Social Age. I know feel in a better place to summarise my thoughts..
The use of web 2.0 / social media in reflection will be a personal matter. When I look at my own reflective practice, the technology I prefer to help me think reflectively is a blank sheet of paper or word document.
The process of writing helps me clarify and connect my thinking - it encourages reflection and it results in a record or product. Writing is also probably the medium I prefer for creative self-expression, along with producing illustrations. So my record of reflective thinking - the codification of my thoughts, is essentially a word document or perhaps a powerpoint slide that contains ideas for an illustration and this becomes the source materials for my blogs, presentations and magazine articles. I don't publish everything I write in my word diary but I publish most of it as it is written with one eye on my blog because I am using it to demonstrate or model my engagement with lifewide learning.
For me, social media does not cause me to reflect or facilitate reflection other than the information flow I receive, particularly from Twitter, exposes me to ideas, people and resources that I would never come across any other way. This flow of personal knowledge encourages me to explore how new ideas relate to my own life - so it is the information flow through social media that causes me to reflect and beyond this to explore. Increasingly, my reflective thinking is connected to the exploration and examination of ideas that I have not thought about before.
My use of web 2.0 technologies (weebly websites) and social media enables me to 'present' and 'share' my thoughts through my websites and LinkIn blogs. I use Twitter and Linked-In groups to broadcast and gain feedback on selected posts. These spaces and mediums enable me to combine my words with images, illustrations, sound and video and even animations to present ideas in more interesting and engaging ways.
I realised some time ago that the process of bringing an Issue of Lifewide Magazine into existence is one of the most powerful tools I have for learning about new things and for reflecting on what I have learnt. Through working on this issue I have concluded that
most people reflect on experiences and events in their lives but they do so privately, informally and without a record. This general tendency carries over into the use of social media - even active users of social media typically do not use these media for recording self-reflection. So being an active user of such media does not in itself mean that people will use their affordances for reflection and recording reflective thinking. People who voluntarily record their reflective thoughts, in a diary, letters, blogs and through other means, do so because of the intrinsic value and meaning they derive from the process. For them reflection is a part of who they are and an outlet for their creative self-expression. They will search for and use the medium(s) that enable them to best express their reflective thoughts in words, drawings, paintings, photographs, making things. If they use social media then they will consider the affordances they offer.
Most people spend time and effort recording their reflective thoughts only when they are expected or required to do so. For example, in work reports, training and development activities or appraisal procedures, or in formal educational processes. They might also reflect and record their thinking at important transitions in their life for example when they are considering leaving a company or applying for a job and they have to update their CV or write a letter of application. In other words reflection is fulfilling a particular purpose and the parameters are usually externally defined. People engage in reflection when they are involved in learning projects, CPD activities or a new and rich informal learning experience, such as travelling or living in a new country. They might also engage in reflection and recording their thinking for therapeutic reasons for example following trauma.
The people who do spend time and effort recording their thinking, including their reflective thoughts, over sustained periods of time, are people who are interested in and committed to their own learning and development. Typically such people are involved in the development of others - teachers, trainers, coaches, educators, developers and one of their purposes is to lead by example by showing the value of recording their reflections.
In addition to people who are directly involved in education, there are groups, such as Professional Bodies, that have a particular interest in promoting formal reflection through their role in professional recognition and maintaining good standing through self-managed CPD. This connects reflective practice in education with reflective practice in the professional world.
Yet another group of people who record their thinking in a publically accessible way are the thought leaders and writers, who want to influence others, build their reputation and promote themselves in the process.
You have to be an active user of social media in order to make use of its affordances for supporting reflection. Personal blogs using web 2.0 platforms like wordpress, tumblr and weebly, are the preferred social media tools for making reflective thinking publicly available - often supported by Twitter. But people who are highly involved in social media make use of many different tools in their reflective processes and practices. It's also clear that some people have tried to use social media to encourage reflection and have been disappointed with the results. These tools do not help them reflect deeply and meaningfully.
Virtually, all of the contributors to this issue of the Magazine maintain a blog through which they publish, amongst other things, their reflective thoughts. Their blogs are connected to their purposes - usually their role, specific aspects of their work or other enterprises they are involved in or perhaps their passions.
So on balance, it would appear that social media provide a medium for recording and presenting reflective thinking for those people who want to reflect and are interested in using such media to accomplish this. But it probably has little impact on people who do not see the value in recording their reflective thoughts.
Regardless of whether we perceive social media to be of use in personal reflection, social media are good at helping us share the results of our reflective stories and insights. When I start researching a new topic I will often search for blogs where people have shared their own thinking and ideas. By sharing their creative contributions people help other people to think: people they will never know unless they make a comment on their blog. Seeing someone else make use of your thinking and creative products can be highly motivating and encourage you to share even more - but all too often people do not leave comments so we do not know what effect our sharing has.
So I hope these musings are of interest and value to someone other than myself.