Participation has always been easy for me. I love to dive in, sense what the others are up to and what motivates each person, and magically create the glue that makes it all come together. But not online. Online, my greatest skill so far is lurking. I have lurked online for many a day, in many compelling contexts. I have lurked on Facebook, hesitant to share my own updates, I’ve lurked on my favorite social media site for knitters (Ravelry), I have lurked in xMOOCs (traditional lecture-style classes on a massive online scale, (Coursera’s a great example.) and even in cMOOCs (production and connection oriented, though also massively open; my absolute favorite [and the one with the least fanfare] is DS106). Turns out you really have to participate in a connectivist MOOC or it makes no sense at all. And so, now, here I am, signed up for an “open online seminar” on Exploring Personal Learning Networks. No one is calling it a MOOC, which makes me sigh with relief – I don’t have to explain to my own network of family, friends, and colleagues, yet again, what a MOOC is. This one is not exactly massive (around 115 of us, I think), and it is very connectivist. But the organizers (yay for Kimberely Scott & Jeff Merrell) have gone a long way to lay out a welcome for novices. Every step of the way, how to connect in this connectivist realm is clearly marked, options offered, tools explained.
But, for me, the question remains: why engage online?
As a teaching professor, I believe in meeting students where they are. And so my recent research has been about figuring out: where are our students these days? To what extent are online engagements naturalized for them. It turns out (and I’m writing about this more formally these days), that like any of us, today’s college students engage online based on what they want to do, what they have to do, and what they get pulled into immersively.
But building a Personal Learning Network is not something I am compelled to do online. For me, PLNs begin in person. Even after decades of e-mail, I prefer to walk down the hall, up the stairs, around the corner, across buildings, travel to conferences, to other campuses of my university, etc in order to interact with my PLN. These are the folks that inhabit the work spaces of my daily environment, friends and colleagues that I went to grad school with, share the microwave with, plan next year’s class schedules with. They are interdisciplinary professors who share my passion for pedagogical methods, and collaborators with whom, as often as not, plans are cooked up in the hallways as we run into each other. Why turn from this PLN to a fully virtual one? How??
I’m getting more and more of a sense of the “how.” Joe Moses’ comment to me during my first ever Tweet Chat meeting last week, “as I learn, I try to make something useful out of it, share it, get feedback, repeat” echoes Harold Jarche’s seek/sense/share paradigm, in which I especially like his emphasis on narration or “working out loud.” You mean no one will be annoyed? Well, Harold doesn’t promise that, exactly, but he does highlight the possibility of bringing “focus to the information sea we swim in.”
But why turn away from the hallway, the physical spaces I occupy with my co-workers and learning network? In a beautifully argued post on one of my favorite sites to get overwhelmed on, Alison Seaman says that learning “how to participate and share knowledge competently in online spaces has become a necessity” and later, “knowing how to engage in these virtual spaces has become crucial for full participation.”
So I am only a partial participant when I learn from those in my immediate environment? Maybe not, but lurking is not participation either. So here is my blog, there is my Tweeter feed. Check me out on Google+. Whew. Participation is not as easy as it used to be.