Am I really alone?

**Important pre-waffle note** Before you read this waffle, can I just say that I am very happy in my office and school. If it comes across that I am not this is not the intention. Thanks!**

You might be aware of the Fermi Paradox. In a nutshell it talks about the fact that despite there being trillions of stars in the universe and even more planets, we have never been contacted by aliens which would suggest that we are actually alone in the universe. But are we really all alone? Although many people might wish to debate the existence of extra-terrestrial life, within this waffle I wanted to look at something more personal. Am I really alone within my institution? Interested? Well that is what this waffle is all about..

If you know where my office is in the institution in which I work, then you will know that I am somewhat – ‘out on a limb’. Don’t get me wrong, I really appreciate the location of my office – it’s close to my teaching rooms, it’s cool in summer, it has nice vistas from the windows and it is generally quiet – all leading to a conducive working environment. But, I am still out on a limb. The rest of my learning and teaching colleagues are quite a walk away, as is the photocopier, kitchen and, perhaps more importantly, the toilets. This could promote the feelings of being isolated and ‘alone’ which might possibly be compounded by my current discipline and research interests.

Before I arrived in higher education, I had only really used the word ‘silo’ in the context of a strange cylindrical building on farms. The Oxford Dictionary shares this definition presenting its initial meaning of the noun as -“A tall tower or pit on a farm used to store grain”. However, when we get down to explanation number three (the second making reference to the an underground chamber for a guided missile) we arrive at the definition which I came across being used within the HE sector – “A system, process, department, etc. that operates in isolation from other”. I, myself, am probably included within the ‘etc.’ being a person in my office, working in a sphere of learning which is in isolation from my colleagues. Now this last comment might need some explanation. I currently work in the School of Education, a dynamic and thought provoking school which engages within learning, teaching and education across a range of modules and programmes. I am intensely interested in learning and teaching and fit quite nicely, I hope, into the school, although it is when I start to look very specifically at my own discipline and areas of research that I feel I am working within somewhat of a micro silo. Yes, we all share the common interest in learning, teaching and education but my personal focus is more specifically in the area of digital pedagogy. Almost everyone has an opinion about digital learning but a view can be completely different than championing or researching into the discipline. So not only might my office be ‘out on a limb’ maybe I am also nesting alone within a micro silo which is digital pedagogy.

We all recognise, and hopefully accept, that social interaction is one important element of the learning process. It is important that we not only read and inwardly digest theories and research but we also exclaim and discuss our ideas and thoughts. Through this discussion and exclamation I believe I, personally, actually gain a better understanding of my thoughts. In 2008 Hugh McGuire wrote a very interesting HuffPost as to why all academics should blog. My favourite section of this article is the one which is sub titled -“Some of your ideas are dumb”. Blogging is very important to me since it allows me to clarify and engage with my own thoughts as I communicate them here. I guess I am also completely in agreement with McGuire’s comment and, as the article describes, actually getting those ideas out there is beneficial for my own learning and reflection. Sharing my thoughts with anyone who is listening/watching allows me to engage with valuable feedback. This could be people challenging my views, agreeing with them or directing me to new thoughts to expand my own understanding. Naomi Barnes (2016) in her article ‘Messy Minds: The autoethnography of learning’ states : “by publicly displaying your learning, you are inviting readers to challenge or extend you’ something which I agree with wholeheartedly. Although there might be few academics for me to socially interact within my school or institution, I have the benefit of the digital world to interactive with. This ranges from the TwitterSphere (@iwilsonysj) through this blog and to all the digital environments I frequent. Yes, sometimes this can be messy. I can tell you about so many times when I have said something only to be refuted or dismissed. But there are other times when people agree and direct me to new learning. Although the interactions are not in person, they are personal and extremely valuable since they impact on my learning, my philosophies and myself as a learner.

I might be sat here in my office in the far reaches of my institution, but I am not really there. I am nestled within the words of this waffle, I am present in the tweets, replies and retweets of Twitter and I am leeching into as much of the digital environment as possible. The Fermi Paradox might suggest that we are alone in the universe and I might appear alone in my thinking and beliefs within my institution but I am definitely not alone as a digital pedagogue fore I have the digital environment where I can share my views, interact with others and engage in that meaningful conversation which promotes and sustain that one thing which I value so much. Learning.

If you are part of my digital family then now is an appropriate time to say thank you for all your interactions. And if you would like to join me then I welcome you with open arms (virtually of course!). And, because I never know how to finish these waffles, here is my mantra once more – Remember to be who you are and say what you feel because the people who mind don’t matter and the people who matter don’t mind. Have fun, and I’ll catch you all later and, until then, consider yourself waffled…