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
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:
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.
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.