Knitting Intentional Networks

Last night, I went to happy hour with a group of friends and colleagues who knit.  I don’t have much of a social life, so for me this was a Big Deal and a Lot of Fun.  For the most part, we knitted, talked about how we came to knitting (or not knitting), showed off our projects, snacked, sipped, and more-or-less avoided “shop talk.”  A little spurt about teaching online here, a little chat about connections between programs there, but mostly it was social time. Having just completed a compelling five-week online seminar (a cMOOC) on “Exploring Personal Learning Networks,” the back burner of my mind was sputtering away with questions: is this part of my PLN? If so, shouldn’t I be much more deliberate about our conversation?

My biggest takeaway from Exploring Personal Learning Networks is how much discipline and intentionality it takes to be a member of a community of thinkers/doers/makers.  In the face-to-face world, I rarely think about discipline and intentionality – in the hallways of my personal learning networks, I mentally bookmark ideas, offer help, brainstorm solutions, listen, comment, applaud, all without really thinking – utterly naturalized.  Move these practices online, and suddenly I am overwhelmed.  I feel inundated with new information, ideas, and resources.

For me, this seminar highlighted the pleasure and fun of learning, particularly learning with amazing deep thinkers, which made it all seem like play more than work (like knitting in a pub, maybe?). That must be why over 100 of us found moments here and there to listen to, read, and engage with weekly broadcasts, tweetchats, blogs, Google+ discussions, even becoming first-time bloggers.  We divided into smaller groups to work on how we might integrate PLNs more intentionally into our workplaces. While I didn’t get to contribute directly, I found the level of agreement I had with our group’s artifact to be compelling; in Janet Webster‘s and Rick Bartlett‘s leadership in creating this presentation, I found the richness of PLN.

The trick is commenting, responding, and curating — a new concept for me, and one that I will be grappling with intensively now. And yet there is a heaviness to all this intentionality. Curating is demanding work, and I’m still really not sure Evernote or Diigo or any number of other platforms are going to get me to where I actually have useable information. Stuff I can return to and use. Like my collection of knitting needles or my yarn stash, right?

During the seminar, we worked on definitions of personal learning networks.  When the class started, I’d only just begun to figure out what the term “PLN” might mean, and why it might be interesting to use. At the time, I thought it was a fancy way of talking about connections between people around ideas, methods, and professional goals. Tanya Lau’s tweet in one of our seminar’s chats (the question at that moment was about how one might explain PLN to our mums) changed my thinking: “Mum, a PLN is like when you visit a new friend’s place for dinner & ask for the recipe cos you really like what they cooked,” tweeted Tanya.

That definition came back to me last night, where I found a lot to think about among the knitters. We were almost all professional colleagues.  We had a lot to offer each other in terms of professional resources, connections, and ideas.  But we didn’t “network.” Instead, we discussed how to cast on, whether to use one long needle or four shorter ones, what kinds of yarn we like, taking turns petting one knitter’s beautiful bamboo/cotton skein. Today, I’m inspired to keep knitting, maybe even finish that project that’s spent more time at the bottom of the yarn basket than in my hands.  Tools, creativity, conviviality, inspiration – isn’t this exactly how a PLN works?!


9 thoughts on “Knitting Intentional Networks

  1. Great post, Mitra! As with other posts I’ve read, it seems that the way to describe our PLNs is to connect with something we are already familiar with. And you certainly create a very visual (at least for me) story of a knitting circle in a pub. I look forward to your future posts!

    • Mitra Emad says:

      Thanks, Jennifer! It’s true that engaging online ends up not being so different from the social practices we are already familiar with. I do think that our #xplrpln group is remarkable – the level of compassion, kindness, and sharp intelligence has blown me away.

  2. tanyalau says:

    Hey Mitra! Was looking forward to your second post (as I very much enjoyed your first!). I’m glad you got some value from my ‘mum’ tweet – it was just a riff of Stephen Judd’s: “Mom, a PLN is like when you’re at bridge and someone shares a new way to cook rice and you try it – only it’s stuff I like.”
    I guess ultimately, both are focused on the both the personal and social sharing aspects of PLNs – which I think you really captured very well in your final paragraph. Ultimately, PLNs are about getting inspiration, and sharing about things you are interested in, from people who are equally interested in those same things. It doesn’t necessarily have to be about professional development as it relates to your work – any skill or knoweldge you might want to develop can be facilitated by your PLN: it’s just about connecting with people in your PLN who share the same passion and interest in developing these skills and knowledge : )

  3. Mitra Emad says:

    Thanks, Tanya! I’ve really enjoyed your posts, too. You and others in our xplrpln community have made the difference for me. I’m going to continue to engage in these new ways (yay, blogging!) and enjoy the uncertainties right along with the creativity and collaborative vibes!

  4. cedbo says:

    Hi Mitra. “And yet there is a heaviness to all this intentionality.” I think that’s key… seems like most things PLN require some conscious efforts and self-discipline (also why it’s important to link it with “play” and “fun” too). Then some reflex and less conscious PLN-friendly behaviours may become “pre-coded” (like when learning how to drive a car, speak a language, go skiing… I have always been impressed looking at my granny and mum knitting at full speed while chatting non-stop about something completely different!). And then sometimes we don’t even know why we do PLN or what brought us there… that makes me think some (good…) intentions might be located on some higher level than just a “result-driven approach”… Need to think/feel more about this though:)

    • tanyalau says:

      I think ultimately it’s social: it’s about connecting with people & their ideas. That’s the underlying intention, whether it’s for professional or personal learning.

  5. […] discipline though. Or as @MitraClara, one participant in our #xplrpln seminar, said in her post on Knitting Intentional Networks : “And yet there is a heaviness to all this intentionality”. I agree. Making an intention […]

  6. I enjoyed your post Mitra. I think you are doing what my PLN friend Rhonda Jessen calls “meatcogknitting!”

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