Networks: May the Force Be With You

This reminds me of my node net... by jared, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by  jared 

Continuing with my exploration of connections, networks and communities…

Tonight’s EC&I 831 class feels like a “meet a celebrity night” for me. Our guest speaker is Shelly Terrell and she will be talking about Personal Learning Networks. I have been reading Shelly’s blog Teacher Reboot Camp since September 2009 when I started my position as a technology learning leader. Her perspectives, ideas and resources were a lifeline for me in a new role that was exciting, undefined and quite isolating. Her blog also connected me to many more blogs that I still follow today. (And without realizing it until now Shelly was a connection for me into a network). I have often wanted to meet the bloggers whose ideas have influenced and inspired my practice. Their blogs make me feel like I know them in some way, I feel connected to them and it is odd to think I have never “met” them nor in most cases will I. In many ways I still crave some form of the old school face-to-face connection, and I guess in the digital world what I mean by that is to have a synchronous connection. So tonight that wish will come true as Shelly will be presenting to us in our Blackboard Collaborate classroom. I am pumped and I know I will have much to share after tonight’s class.

I will still explore networks in this post to set a foundation for my thoughts and then use Shelly’s discussion on PLNs to delve further into the topic. I have been doing some reading about networks in order to explore how they may evolve from connections. I started with Nancy White and a short interview with her on YouTube (thank you again to EC&I 831 course resources). She defines a network as “a bunch of people with overlaying and intersecting interests”. I envision a network being born from connections. Perhaps this occurs when an energy develops around the reason for the connection or it sparks a need for action or it generates a force greater than the connection can house. Maybe this force stems from the involvement of many layers of connections. White indicates a network is driven from the individual which seems to reinforce the idea that a network is active, it is created by the joining of my connections to those of others, and it comes from self but leads to many.

Is a network an interconnection?

White reinforces that technology supports networks and this Common Craft video demonstrates how social networking shines a light on connections that are normally hidden in the real world.

I agree that when connections are more visible they become much more useful to us by “helping us get to our next destination”. A network can help me solve problems, grow, think in new ways and move forward. The power of a network comes from a multiplying effect-when I am connected with one person I am also linked to their connections and the web grows rapidly and in many directions.

A network can simply be defined as connections between entities. Computer networks, power grids, and social networks all function on the simple principle that people, groups, systems, nodes, entities can be connected to create an integrated whole. Alterations within the network have ripple effects on the whole.~George Siemens

The key word for me is whole. A network is a collection of connections that form a resource with great potential. I am excited to be experiencing this power more and more. My classmates and professors were my initial connections, and due to the variety and range of their connections I am now exposed to a growing network of support. I may use some arms of the network more frequently than others but the entirety of the network is available as needed. A web analogy works here by not only depicting the interlacing of connections but also by demonstrating the safety net of support found in a network.

One final point from Siemens’ quote is the integration and ripple effect within a network. I love the sense that there is a force the vibrates between the parts of a network, and its impact goes beyond any one person. This fits perfectly with White’s view that in a network the reciprocity is not one to one, “You don’t owe me a favour, you owe the network a favour”.

I’m wondering: Do you have experiences where your connections have branched into networks? How does a network change over time? How do you use a network to support you-professionally and/or personally? How do you maintain your networks or do you need to? I am also still interested in analogies showing the relationship between connections, networks and communities.

10 thoughts on “Networks: May the Force Be With You

  1. Great post Tannis. Have my connections branched into networks? Most definitely. I have made connections with classmates in several classes who are now part of my network – either through twitter or more often through LinkedIn. I have also discovered workplace colleagues who are now part of this network – certainly those of us looking to explore the use of social media in workplace and adult education (higher ed) environments. Some individuals are more actively part of the network than others and just as in many other relationships, certain individuals take on various roles, such as initiating discussion or feeding the network.

    • It is so true that people have various roles and levels of involvement in networks as they would in other relationships, all of which are important and valuable. Thanks for commenting on my blog post!

  2. Thank you for the great mention and kind words. They really made my day. I think you have pointed out some positive points of networks. I especially like when you write, “Perhaps this occurs when an energy develops around the reason for the connection or it sparks a need for action or it generates a force greater than the connection can house.” I have experienced this several times and definitely there is an energy and synergy within the group which would explain why educators on social networks seem to be more enthused and excited about their professions. Thank you for attending 🙂

  3. What really got me interested in network theory previously was a series of videos called Connected: The Power of Six Degrees (and yes there is reference to Kevin Bacon, his movie and the game). Unfortunately, it’s no longer available on Vimeo where I viewed it but you may be able to source it somehow. Here’s a teaser on YouTube.

    I also recently posted on communities and ripples, Circles, Spaces and Ripples though my main focus was how we all have individual notions or comfort levels when connecting and that yes, such connections ripple out. It’s interesting to see this mentioned above as well as some ideas mentioned by @shellTerrell during her talk.

    I love my PLN and once crowd-sourced a blog post – one on how to teach empathy. I started with 4 items and the list now stands at 12. That’s 8 more than what I came up with on my own. My PLN is a source of support, inspiration, affirmation and challenge. I grow professionally because I have such a network.

    And yes, it’s not one-way. It’s not even just two-way. It’s multi-way. I’m glad you’re finding this to be true for yourself.

    Good luck on the rest of the course.


    • Thanks so much for taking the time to comment on my post, Malyn! I love your analogy of ripples of connections. You make a good point about the power of crowd-sourcing too. I see many people linking to Google Docs through their tweets to gather ideas. So many possibilities!

  4. Hi Tannis,
    I’m in this course because a colleague in my faculty suggested I coffee with our Ed Tech consultant at SIAST, and when I did, she shared several ideas to help me with the issue I was working on, and happened to mention Alec’s eci831. I needed an elective and wanted to do something with an education focus…so here I am.

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