Trust, Connected Learning, and Photography

This morning, a professional photographer arrived at my house to take my picture for a local nonprofit storytelling project.  I found telling my story very easy but the photo-taking…Jesus take the wheel, I am extremely photo averse.

In today’s camera-ready world, my photo anxiety has been a noticeable problem.  So last summer I put myself on a daily selfie desensitization regimen.  It was shockingly hard at the beginning to take a selfie daily and post it to a social media site.  It took hours a day at first, and I had to wipe down the palms and forehead more than once.  It was, however, effective, and now I can get through a casual instagram shot without hyperventilating.  And while I no longer worry about dissolving into a panic attack in front of a camera,  a stranger with a giant diffuser and a white umbrella…well, it turns me into this.

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The photographer was lovely.  Every once in a while she would put down her camera and talk to me about her family, her friends, and her work.  Her most recent photo shoot had taken her into an encampment of homeless people on the outskirts of Richmond–a three mile hike with social workers at 4:30 in the morning in the pouring rain.  She told me of the smell and the mud and the homeless men she had photographed and as she was describing one, she said, “You know, it takes a lot of trust to let someone photograph you.”

We got through the shoot, possibly because she was going for a “deep-in-thought” look, and she had just given me something to think about.  I’d never considered that my problem with being photographed was about trust.  The selfie regimen had allowed me to get comfortable with the media, but allowing another person into the process adds an entirely different layer of complexity.

So what does this have to do with education?  It’s this issue of trust.  This month the Connected Learning Alliance has been running a “Building Trust in Connected Learning Environments” campaign and, honestly, I didn’t think a lot about it.  You say “trust” to me in the context of a classroom and I immediately go to Stephen Brookfield and Parker Palmer.  Images of communicating with students, cluing them into my thought processes, being honest when I am uncertain about an answer or how to proceed, a little critical incident questionnaire and a lot of Kumbaya, and I thought I had trust covered.

But here was a photographer who was doing a great Stephen Brookfield impression.  She told me about herself, she addressed all the giant elephants in the room.  She showed me the pictures so I could tell her which ones to delete.  She gave me control over the situation in multiple other ways. She was doing everything right.

But you see, I have a history, and no matter how good the photographer is at her job, she can only get me so far.  I’m going to have to do the rest of the work by myself.

And so I am left to contemplate what that means for the connected learning classroom.  Connected educators in higher ed will have to meet students in a variety of places.  Some will be primed for connected learning, others might be connected learning averse, related to a host of experiences at home, at work, with friends, in K-12.  To succeed, students who are connected learning adverse are going to have to understand its value, like I understood that I needed to NOT have a panic attack every time I saw a camera. Students are going to need time to get use to a new pedagogy, one layer at a time.  And sometimes they might accept the media before they accept the people behind it, because media is more predictable – more safe – than people are.

Anyhow.

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