doug — off the record

just a place to share some thoughts

About Snake OIl

I had breakfast with the wonderful Alison Slack yesterday.  We seldom get a chance to sit down and chat so we made a point of making it happen.  I’m so glad that we did.

We talked about many things and one thing that she shared with me was an article “How to Recognize Snake Oil in Your Personal Learning Network“.  It is a real thought provoking article and I whole-heartedly recommend that you read it at least once.  I think I’ve gone through it at least four times as of this writing and I pick out something new from each read and the comments.

I think it’s important to recognize and admit that we’re all selling something.  Perhaps not formal or touchable but I would suggest that ideas, thoughts, and experiences are just as powerful and can be as valuable.  I remembered a Murray McLauchlan song from long ago and it’s been going through my head since she mentioned the article.  The whole song isn’t relevant but certainly this part is:

Everybody has ambition
Everybody has a dream
But everybody don’t get to be kings and queens
That seems to be the way it seems

I think that the message heard tags on nicely to the post that Brandon Grasley made about expanding one’s online learning by “Finding “unusual” content using Zite“.  In addition to enriching your learning by reading, you enrich your learning by the folks that you include in your Personal Learning Network.  (A term that I’m not a fan or but is used throughout so I’ll include it.)

Reading an article is one thing.  Your attention can be grabbed with a catchy title and drawn in my a good opening paragraph.  It’s standard writing fare and writers use it all the time.  After the first paragraph, you do have the option to stop reading and move on if it’s not meeting your needs.

If we turn to social networking, it’s a bit difference.  Twitter messages, for example, have no title or opening paragraph.  In up to 140 characters, you get both barrels before you have a chance to really evaluate the merits of the post.  There are no pictures or diagrams – you just get it.  The brain is an amazing thing; the message gets taken in.  A well supported post may also include a link or two to online content that fleshes out issue.

A lot of the time it doesn’t. 

You’ve got everything that the author has.

I’m making the assumption here that a major reason you use social media is for learning and expanding your mind set.  Therein lies the rub.  The reason why you follow a person presumably is that you feel that you have something to learn from them.  So it begs the question “What are they selling?”

I think you also need to ask:

  • “Why are they selling it?”
  • “Do they actually practice what they’re preaching?”
    (A colleague once called it “All sizzle, no bacon”
  • “Are they consistent with their message?” 
  • “Do they engage in a worthwhile manner that’s worth your time to read?”
  • “Are they learning as well or just using the platform for personal promotion?”

Moderating things with Zite is relatively easy.  Just give it a thumbs down and Zite promises to give you better content.

On social media, it’s a bit different.  At times, the snake oil becomes annoying and repetitive.  At its worse, it can change your perception of things for the worse.  You may develop a negative attitude towards things that don’t deserve it or you may be cajoled into doing something that you shouldn’t or are not capable of doing.  At times, these people can exhibit the worst in bullying behaviour.

What to do?

Stand up and focus on why you’re connected in the first place.  I remember advice from my parents “Would you invite them into your house?”  I think it clearly applies here.  I’m a glass half-full kind of guy. I wouldn’t invite a bully into my house.  Why would I continue to have them in my online learning space?

Use the tools to address the snake oil salesperson.  Mute them, put them into a list that you don’t read regularly, unfollow or unfriend them.  Life is too short to be wasted on detractors.

Take back your Personal Learning Network and turn it into your positive learning again.  You’ll be glad you did.


5 responses to “About Snake OIl”

  1. Hey Doug,
    I would add one strategy to your list at the end.
    Most people who are selling bunk in my Twitter timeline are teachers who mean well; they’ll not malicious in the way snake oil salesmen were. To address them we need to respond to their claims, politely and professionally. Otherwise the strategy/product/perspective might become lodged in our collective consciousness and have deep, lasting, and negative impacts on our practices and our system.
    Okay, two strategies… We need to make ourselves positive parts of other people’s feeds 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great advice(s), Brandon. It also reinforces the power of being open with our thoughts – it lets others refine them to better things. Thanks for doing so this morning.


  3. Brandon’s second strategy totally resonates with me. It’s what I really try hard to do. Opening up vs closing down.


  4. […] with those who challenge our thinking and present us with new ideas to chew on.  Doug Peterson wrote about reading, accessing, and storing information online and through our social media networks.  […]


  5. […] About Snake OIl | doug — off the record […]


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