We Are In This Together

Earlier this week Dr. Richard Schwier spoke with our EC&I 831 class about “Connections and Contexts” and since then three words have been frolicking around in my mind: connections, networks and communities. I’m wondering about their:

  • individual meanings,
  • interrelationship,
  • role in learning,
  • evolution due to technology, and
  • importance in my academic and professional life.

This topic is far too large for a single blog post particularly on a Friday afternoon when the sun is shining and there is snow looming in the weekend’s forecast. I have decided to create a trilogy of entries…I know, so Francis Ford Coppola “Godfather” of me!

Although I see connections, networks and community as very interwoven, I also see them as having the potential to evolve from one to the other. It is not a definite or certain evolution but the possibility exists. At first I pictured it like a snake growing out of one skin to reveal the next layer or even like metamorphosis but both suggest you cannot return to the previous stage and I don’t see it that way. Maybe as I work through these  topics in my blog I will be able to capture a more accurate metaphor.

Being connected is being linked, united or joined together. Connections are at the heart of us. We actively seek them out, invest in them, honour them with ceremony, grieve them when they crumble, feel empowered by their existence, and juggle a wide array of them in our lives. What creates a connection? What sparks it? Fuels it? Nurtures it?  Sometimes the reasons behind our connections with people are extremely obvious -they are family or neighbours or coworkers. Other times connections are unexpected or by chance or we make a conscious choice to develop them. We are connected by blood, interests, beliefs, challenges, experiences, proximity, ideas, history…the sources are endless. But whatever their shape, size and feel connections are meeting a human need.

As a teacher I feel that without connections the experience of learning together will lack depth, authenticity and engagement.  I respect that it is not a given to have a connection between a teacher and her students, nor between the learners and the learning. It takes commitment and action to foster and maintain connections with students, amongst students and to the learning. The even greater challenge I believe is connecting with other teachers. There is a certain isolation that happens in the world of teaching. We so rarely have opportunities to connect with other teachers beyond our own schools. I find I am interacting with a small (but awesome!) piece of the pie by only connecting with the teachers in our building. In a large school board of thousands of teachers I find myself so curious and keen and thirsty for a connection with more of them. What were they doing? Trying? Exploring?

Thankfully technology is playing a significant role in expanding the potential for connections. Three months into my Master’s degree my connections have undergone exponential growth. I would not have been exposed so quickly to such a wide range of people without the power of discussion boards, Twitter, blogs, and Blackboard Collaborate, just to name a few. Steven Downes wrote about the Seven Habits of Highly Connected People and it gave me some clarity as to what to keep in mind as I build my online connections.

  • Be reactive: It is important to spend time reading online (blogs, forums, etc.) and being receptive to other people’s thoughts and ideas. Attend to what is being said and then respond with relevancy. “Posting, after all, isn’t about airing your own views. It’s about connecting, and the best way to connect is to clearly draw the link between their content and yours.”
  • Go with the flow: Contribute to the greater conversation by adding something of value and keep it ego-free.
  • Connections come first: Make them a priority as so much of what we do stems from connections.
  • Share: As Kevin Kelly says in The Next 5000 Days of the Web: “To share is to gain.” It is our responsibility to one another to share and we are all better for it.
  • RTFM: Read the Fine Manual “Make the effort to learn for [yourself] before seeking instruction from others… [It] is not merely respectful, it demonstrates a certain degree of competence and self-reliance.”
  • Cooperate: Understand the protocols of communicating online.
  • Be yourself: “It’s a recognition that your online life encompasses the many different facets of your life.”

Invisible threads are the strongest ties. -Friedrich Nietzsche

Part of being connected is sharing a laugh together (thanks Dad for this great life lesson!) and no one can capture life quite like Calvin and Hobbes: Calvin gets connected.

I would love to know: How do you view connections, networks and communities? What metaphor would you use to illustrate the relationship between these three terms? Do you use online tools to build connections between teachers within your school board? How do you find time to connect online with other educators? What tools do you prefer to use for making these connections?

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9 thoughts on “We Are In This Together

  1. Tannis,

    As I read more and more posts from the students participating in EC&I 831, I’m realizing my connections, networks and communities are very passive. I do a lot of following, but very little sharing. I’ve always described my use of Twitter and RSS feeds as a way of “professional development”, by reading others and learning from them; however, I haven’t taken the time to actively participate and share as much as I could. I’m not sure what’s been holding me back. I’ve been wondering if it is a matter of not having enough time, or… is it I haven’t *made* the time to actively participate?

    So, to answer your questions, in nor particular order, (even though I’m not as active as I might be…)

    Q: Do you use online tools to build connections between teachers within your school board?
    A: I’m a librarian at a medium sized community college in Vancouver, Washington, so I use online tools to connect with other librarians, both local and beyond. I also teach and use online tools to connect to educators, but not specifically at my school, or in my local geographic location.

    Q: How do you find time to connect online with other educators?
    A: This is very difficult. I normally set aside time each day to keep up with reading posts in my RSS feed, or tweets on Twitter, but what I do not do well, is make time to reciprocate and share. Well, I share a bit via Twitter, but really, it’s not that much. I think it is a matter of making the time, but those opportunity costs can be difficult to pay.

    Q: What tools do you prefer to use for making these connections?
    A: I’ve used RSS feeds for a very long time, and Twitter for about a year and like them both very much. I’m just now trying Goggle+ and find it interesting, but I’m still not sure how G+ fits within my learning network.

    Q:What metaphor would you use to illustrate the relationship between these three terms, (connections, networks and communities)?
    A: How about a three legged-stool. It would be very difficult to sit on a stool that didn’t have at least three legs, and a good learning network will allow you to form networks, build communities and make the connections necessary to have a solid learning network.

    What I’m realizing is that my learning network is not as solid as I imagined it was and I need to start being more active and less passive, in order to make it more stable, like a three-legged stool.

  2. Zachary, thank you for your thoughts and perspectives. Your comment definitely makes you “active” in the world of connections and networks! Before taking my Master’s courses I also did a lot of following but I was virtually mute. For me it wasn’t a time issue, it was that I thought (and still do) “What can I possibly offer?” Through my courses I was literally forced/strongly encouraged to contribute and weigh in. It was a big risk for me but I have to say it has paid of in ways I would have never expected. And I have learned we all have something to contribute, the power of many voices is awesome. I still have a long way to go but it is a process. I love your three legged stool analogy, it shows the interrelationship. Thanks again!

  3. Thanks for a lovely blog post – I really enjoyed reading it. When I read your bullet points, I thought ‘what about listening?’ and how neatly that links to you Nietzsche quote so let’s celebrate listening as a connection, as an (in)visible thread.

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