When I saw that Neil deGrasse Tyson was to be the keynote speaker at DevLearn2014, I thought it was an odd choice. A pleasant surprise, certainly, but in my mind I struggled to imagine how his ideas on space and time would set the tone of our eLearning conference. As it turns out, he was a terrific choice.
I should have trusted that he would be smart enough (duh!) and savvy enough about public appearances to know how to hold an audience’s attention and bend the content to resonate well. Dr. Tyson absolutely delivered the goods.
In a far-ranging but fascinating 45 minutes, he discussed everything from his childhood primary and secondary school experiences to his perspectives on the ways in which culture informs the scientific community. Why is it that we have been lamenting STEM/STEAM education in the United States, and yet our nation continues to be among the leaders in scientific discover and Nobel Prizes awarded? He argued that it is our culture that allows us to question authority and that values frontiers – both physical and mental.
But what I was most excited to see from him was when he paused, mid-sentence, to tweet a thought that had just occurred to him. He was talking about how we are so interconnected with each other now via social media, and how one idea can ricochet around the globe at the speed of media feeds and typing thumbs. As he was contemplating what this means for the scientific community, he went on a slight tangent to discuss how just that week Pope Francis had remarked that science and the church are not at odds, and how he accepts evolutionary science and modern astronomical thinking. He paused….
We watched, in silent appreciation (I appreciated it anyway – I guess I can’t speak for all) as he took his phone out of his pocket and tweeted:
I have been making the case that social media in the workplace is only a distraction if you allow it to be. It is not only another way to capture important notes and thoughts, it is a channel to share those thoughts with tens, hundreds or (in his case) tens of thousands of followers instantly. I welcome people staring at their screens and moving their thumbs during my meetings and trainings. If the content is useful and engaging, then they are demonstrating engagement just as much as if they were taking notes on paper. If they are bored and disengaged, then they would be so with or without their little screens.
As Dr. Tyson says: “We want to feel connected, want to feel relevant, want to feel like a participant in the goings-on in activities and events going-on around you.” (1:53 – 2:08 in the video below.) Social media in the workplace-learning place is just another avenue for that engagement.