The Internet as Content or Connection?

750 German schoolchildren free associate what “The Internet” means to them. www.flickr.com

 The Internet

While originally the internet was created as a platform for researchers and scientists to share information, the internet has evolved into a complex network of information, accessible to anyone who has a computer device and access to the wifi. For the first time in history, the internet has given humans the unconstrained ability to connect and share this information with anyone around the world at anytime.

In my readings this week, I have been thinking about how I use the internet for learning. It was helpful to break it down and think about how I use the internet to access information and make social connections.

The internet as a mass of content

Here are a few of the ways that I use the internet to access new information:

  • Google searches
  • news websites
  • education blogs
  • online curriculum guides
  • YouTube
  • Pinterest
  • Twitter

Basically anytime I want to learn something new I can go online and find what I need. This information is available to me 24/7 no matter where I am and this is also true for my students. When I was in college (back in the late 80’s), I was comfortable and secure knowing that the information in my textbooks and delivered by my professors was carefully  produced in a way that Dave Cormier refers to as a nonrhizomatic model, in which “individual experts translate information into knowledge through the application of checks and balances involving peer review and rigorous assessment against a preexisting body of knowledge.” That meant that the information was carefully vetted and could be trusted. However, the internet has given us access to endless amounts of unfiltered information.  I find myself often reminding my students, “Don’t believe everything you see on the internet!” But instead of approaching the “big bad world” of the internet as an entity to be feared, the challenge for me as an educator is to learn to evaluate the information I am consuming. This is where I believe the connectivity aspect of the internet is a powerful force.  According to Will Richardson, the connection with others helps me to make sense of the information I am learning.

The internet as a mass of connections

While the internet gives us unlimited access to information, it also provides us a platform for making connections. Some of the ways I use the internet to connect with others are:

  • Facebook
  • Skype
  • Twitter
  • Email
  • Instagram
  • Google+

For me, making meaningful online connections means staying in touch with family and friends and sharing information with colleagues. I almost never interact with someone I have not met face to face. It feels uncomfortable and even creepy for me to chat with someone I don’t know. The reading by Jeff Utecht pushed me to think differently about connecting with people. Sometimes I worry that if I invest more time connecting with others “out there,” I will neglect to focus on the colleague who is right in front of me. But I have come to realize that a lot of reluctance to “put myself out there,” is rooted in a fear of what others will think of me and having my ideas criticized. On the contrary, developing a Personal Learning Network is a great way for me to begin to dialogue about the content I am learning. My PLN is where, in the context of a community, I can make sense of the mass of content that I am consuming. This community also gives me a place to share my thinking and have it sharpened.

Rhizome plant
Posidonia Rhizome Plant by Arnaud Abadi www. flickr.com CC

I love how Dave Cormier uses the metaphor of a rhizome plant to represent learning communities. A rhizome plant, like the one pictured, doesn’t just have one central point of growth. It has multiple autonomous nodes that need each other but can individually grow and flourish on their own.  It is the idea that knowledge and ideas are fluid and grow as we interact with them together in community.

 

 

The Internet as both Content AND Connection

Ultimately it’s the synergy of the internet’s content and connectivity, that enables us to create new ways of thinking and doing. We need both.  As I continue on in this course, I look forward to taking some risks to discuss my learning with other learners in hopes of growing my ideas. I would love to hear from you. What are some ways that you use your PLN to grow your ideas? Please comment below.

 

 

 

Stepping Out into the Unknown

Michelle-205

Photo by Minh Nguyen Jr.

Last Spring I attended the Vietnam Ed Tech conference. At that conference I heard COETAIL co-founder, Kim Cofino speak. I remember her asking the audience if we were consumers or producers of the digital messages that are saturating our society. What about my students? Were they consumers or producers? My eyes were opened to a new way of thinking about learning and how the digital landscape of the 21st century is changing how we learn. I came away from that time with more questions than answers but decided to take steps to implement what I could from that conference.

I first stepped into a classroom almost 25 years ago when there were no computers in my class, no email, no internet…only me, the students, some books and an overhead projector. After teaching for some years, I left the classroom, started a family, and moved to Kyrgyzstan, where my husband and I lived and worked for 10 years. Fast forward to six years ago when I stepped back into the classroom. I honestly felt so out of it. I didn’t even know how to make a powerpoint. That began my first journey of self-directed learning. The quickest way for me to learn the new technologies and get up to speed on best practices in education was to ask for help from my young, tech savvy colleagues, watch YouTube videos and read everything I could on the internet. I came across blogs like Cult of Pedagogy (Jennifer Gonzalez) and Edutopia and began to learn all I could.

So here I am ready to dive into this course. I am nervous and see this as something way beyond my capabilities but I want to step out and take a risk. I want to add some structure to what I am already trying to learn on my own. I know that I need a community to encourage me and keep me accountable. I look forward to growing my professional learning network (had no idea what a PLN was until just a few months ago).

I have given a lot of thought to the title of my blog which includes the words: LEARNING, GLOBAL, and COMMUNITY. Each of these words is close to my heart so I hope to unpack them in another blog. Until then…cheers to everyone in COTAIL Online Cohort7. I look forward to connecting and growing with you.