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,
- 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?