Digital scholarship in Africa: A personal reflection

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about the practices, tools and online behaviours of digital scholars and how what I see in various spaces may suggest that these are not universal. I’m not seeing many African edtech folks doing what those in the Global North are doing. Please note that this is based on a ‘hunch’ and my personal experience of being quite active in a range of online spaces, particularly Twitter.

As part of the EDN4502W course I put together some voluntary activities for students towards a ‘Digital Scholar’ open badge (comments welcome – see here). I also did a presentation on strategies, tools and tips related to digital scholarship. We were very privileged to have attended a talk by George Veletsianos (download an audio recording of his talk here). He also came to the class afterwards to engage in some critical questions that we prepared for him as part of a collaborative exercise on preparing critical questions. George presented a keynote for the Emerging Technologies and Authentic Learning in Higher Vocational Education conference the week before.

george

In the classroom that morning, I observed one person using WhatsApp on his laptop conversing with colleagues back home in Uganda (work related conversations – the word ‘marking’ caught my eye). I wondered whether our students (many of whom are from countries across the African continent) are already digital scholars in their own right, just preferring to engage in more local and private spaces for various kinds of networking. After setting up criteria for the badge, I wondered: Are we asking students to engage in particular online behaviours that they might not feel comfortable with? I invited the class to comment on the Google doc with the badge details and suggest revisions for various criteria.

I was chatting to a colleague today about her observations of social media use for a current research project coordinated across researchers in the Global South. She shared that few of these researchers use Twitter, but are quite active on Facebook and WhatsApp. I had been wondering whether particular tools appeal more to people from societies who are more individualist where people tend to do a lot more showcasing. When I attended eLearning Africa earlier this year, I was also surprised by the exchange of business cards. ‘What’s your Twitter handle?’ was not the question that emerged much during networking conversations. Very different networking behaviours at this conference if I compare it to my experience at the Networked Learning Conference last year (#NLC2014). This is also where I met Bonnie Stewart who has been doing some interesting research on networked scholarly practices, and I have been following her on Twitter since that conference. Read some of her research here.

Being part of the e/merge Africa team, I have been pondering why educational technology practitioners and scholars in African contexts are perhaps not as active in the same spaces as those from the Global North, let alone inhabiting these spaces at all (WordPress blogs, Twitter, Google Plus, etc.). I started following quite a few of the presenters and regular attendees from our events on Twitter if I found their handle. Are their voices being drowned out in my Twitter stream or do they prefer to interact in other spaces which are more low stakes, local, private, communal, etc. Is putting one’s self out there in a more public space like Twitter and showcasing a concern because these individuals may prefer to be seen as more humble and tend to be far less ‘showcasey”? Perhaps they have lurked in the online spaces inhabited by those from the Global North and thought ‘this is not me’?

This got me thinking – what does it mean to be a digital scholar in an African context? What practices, tools and online behaviours are valued and how do these happen? Has anyone else investigated these questions? Perhaps engagement is not driven by a desire for influence (having many followers, etc) but rather less, perhaps more personal connections?

If there are cultural differences (or perhaps this is an over-simplification?), this might have implications for how we think about things like open badges, OERs and so forth. And for educators on educational technology programmes, how we teach about and encourage digital scholarly practices.I am curious to learn more and look forward to your insights:) Might my ‘hunch’ be related to a particular kind of digital scholarship, which depends on the kinds of apps on mobile devices and should we perhaps be leveraging this rather than encouraging scholars to participate in spaces where they might not feel comfortable?

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3 thoughts on “Digital scholarship in Africa: A personal reflection

  1. You have some valid points here and a study on why WhatsApp and Facebook are so appealing to some of our Ed Tech 2015 colleagues would be valuable. Also what might be appealing as alternatives.. Our twitter feed was quite marginal @Edtech2015 when compared with other years, but perhaps it was because we were engaged in other media, chat, our readings, research and of course our own blogs. I am inspired by your digital scholarship badge and by your thoughtful comments here and personally. I like also the idea of creating different Twitter streams with different persona so that “valuable voices are not “drowned in your twitter stream” as you mention above.

  2. Thanks Carolynn:) I do hope some folks will be keen on going for the badge.

    Personally I don’t use different Twitter accounts for different personas. I sometimes enjoy the context collapse and seeing a bit of people’s personal side to their professional accounts. I also tend to share a bit of my other interests on spaces like Twitter (art exhibitions, museums, etc). Facebook is now more academic because of how colleagues use it but it was personal only and people who want to be my friend now must just deal with the fact that in that space I am a bellydancer also. So I will post things not relevant to academic friends because the majority of my friends on Facebook are fellow dancers.

    I have multiple personalities and wear many diiferent hats, as most folks do. I guess it’s a case of thinking about which hats we want to be wearing in different spaces and why. And related to this topic, why do people wear hats in particular online spaces and not others? And when people wear hats in spaces which are more communal or social rather than professional, what is motivating that? Maybe they like to get a feel of the person as a whole package rather than a hat?

    • Regarding the different hats, perhaps it depends on the community with whom you are associated in that space? I’ve noticed that you often choose to wear an outlandish but colourful hat both literally and figuratively! The motivation for me is how I associate with other members of that community e.g. boxer dog lover, Mother and family member. However I’m being really cautious of over-sharing in these public spaces now while I work on the “smart goals” you have suggested :))

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