With the very recent release of my HECSU research (Bumping online disucssion forums in a social media age) I’ve been doing some more thinking about providing careers support online and how that can impact practice in online spaces. An area that was surfaced in the four semi structured interviews I conducted with careers practitioners was the complexity and skill required to support students within online discussion forums. This links back to a question that Hooley (2012) asks of practitioners in how can we use the internet to provide people with support for their careers? With face to face careers guidance support still very much the dominant delivery model I think it worthwhile to pitch the following question.
“Providing CEIAG in online spaces – what’s the same what’s different to face to face?”
This is a useful starter question for practitioners or services seeking to expand their provision and move delivery further into online spaces. Goss & Hooley (2015) make the credible point that we need re-contextualise existing practice rather than viewing online conversations as simply another mode of delivery. In my experience this is entirely true, especially having changed roles from campus based support to delivery of guidance services as a distance utilising technology. The thematic analysis of my interviews begins to provide some insight to the challenges practitioners can face in providing guidance services online, even if though the focus was online discussion forums.
I’ve tried to gather my thoughts (and aware I’ve missed out a lot) and have come up with three broad topics.
1. Online spaces creates added dynamic complexity: Social media allows us to interact with people and their user generated content (UGC) across a diverse range of platforms. This in effect creates the potential for a community or network mind whereby the group rather than a single user becomes the expert. Brown (2000) uses the ecology metaphor to describe an environment for learning and defines an ecology as having the characteristics of a system that is open, complex, adaptive, dynamic, interdependent, diverse, fragile and partially self-organising. I’ve found this metaphor also works very well in describing social media applications. For practitioners this can mean needing to think about how online spaces are created and managed beyond just rule following but to support educationally meaningful experiences. In face to face work we might consider how to create a space to share and communicate effectively but many to many spaces bring additional factors and responsibilities for the practitioner to consider such as community building (Hostetter, 2013) or remaining facilitative of views that are biased and push against our impartial aims.
Finally there are still the challenges of asynchronous online environments versus 1:1 synchronous guidance. Visual nonverbal cues and immediate answers to questions all help practitioners gain a sense of latent needs, client feelings, story, viewpoints and also share those thoughts back in real time. In counselling, immediacy is a very powerful tool as psychological closeness within communication has distinct benefits. Although synchronous tools can foster immediacy this becomes more difficult in asynchronous environments, therefore practitioners often need to work out how to manage both a lack of feedback from clients and how to generate social presence in an online world.
2. It’s a difficult and skilled balancing act to create a safe space but still manage privacy, safeguarding and negative psychological impact: There has always been a difficult balancing act in guidance work in terms of managing disclosures that could move into safeguarding territory and also operating within the confines of training and ethical boundaries. Personal issues are work issues but in guidance work practitioners are careful to contract and work with what they are trained and feel comfortable to offer support with. For example, if you’re not a trained Counsellor then signposting a client for support. Disclosures in a many to many online space requires careful consideration both because of the latent nature of communication and the public nature of social media. It is easy to be left wondering when is a message (a post) is a cry for help and when is a message a disclosure of an issue that’s been resolved?
Online discussion forums (ODFs) for example have long been recognised as an environment where individuals can discuss key emotional topics (Kendal et al, 2017), especially in a health related context. Where anonymity can be afforded through the use of pseudonyms this can help allay some of the privacy concerns posed by social networking sites.
3. Ethics are just as vital to online work: In its code of ethics the CDI makes a point that all career development activities and services are covered by this code regardless of how they are delivered, e.g. face to face, in groups, by telephone or web-based. In a many to many environment with lots of voices and viewpoints it’s more important than ever have impartiality and transparency. This can also be where practitioners feel that sense of their own professional identity in how their role is clearly demarcated from others, especially those with vested interests. In an age of information abundance the need for critical digital literacy is vital. This can apply to the information we signpost and curate into online resources. But this leads to me to two questions. If we’re teaching them who is teaching us? And are we making too many assumptions about how our training and competencies as practitioners are equally effective in online/offline contexts?
Brown, J. S. (2000) ‘How the Web Changes Work, Education, and the Ways People Learn’, p. 6.
Career Development Institute (2019) Code of ethics. [Online]. Available at https://www.thecdi.net/write/Documents/Code_of_Ethics_update_2018-web.pdf.
Goss, S. and Hooley, T. (2015) ‘Symposium on online practice in counselling and guidance’, British Journal of Guidance & Counselling, vol. 43, no. 1, pp. 1–7 [Online]. DOI: 10.1080/03069885.2015.995471.
Hooley, T. (2012) How the internet changed career: framing the relationship between career development and online technologies. Journal of the National Institute for Career Education and Counselling (NICEC) 29.
Hostetter, C. (2013) ‘Community matters: Social presence and learning outcomes’, Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, vol. 13, no. 1, p. 10.
Kendal, S., Kirk, S., Elvey, R., Catchpole, R. and Pryjmachuk, S. (2017) ‘How a moderated online discussion forum facilitates support for young people with eating disorders’, Health Expectations, vol. 20, no. 1, pp. 98–111 [Online]. DOI: 10.1111/hex.12439.