I was a connected-person before I became a connected-scholar. Which makes me wonder if there is a personality trait or something that makes some of us more connected than others? Is it inherent or teachable?
Back in my undergraduate days, I discovered the Internet (before the Web). For first attempted at connection was through Unix talk – which is sort of like today’s Facebook Messenger without the emoticons, voice, or pictures. It was pure ASCII text. I used it to connect with people across North America. I had one penpal who was a graduate student in St.Paul/Minneapolis (which is how I learned about the idea of twin cities). I cannot remember his name, but I remember the many chats we had. One of our favourite games was “how many provinces/states can you name”. I usually won that one!
I was immersed in the idea of online connectivity again when I did an online Masters program (MA in Distributed Learning from Royal Roads University). The two year program was online, with my colleagues attending mostly from around Canada, but I also had one classmate in China. This was before Skype, so we did our group work using MSN Messenger (e.g. again, like Facebook chat without the audio, video, or pictures). We developed our own norms for communicating – each person taking a different colour so that you could follow the conversation. But it wasn’t until it came time for the thesis that I demonstrated my willingness for connectivity. I reached out to the author of our textbook, and asked if she would be willing to supervise my thesis. At the time she was not associated with Royal Roads. Fortunately for me, she was happy to. This was my first true example being a connected-scholar. It happened in 2004.
I didn’t see the value in the technology until it showed me how to connect. When I first learned of blogs, I thought it interesting, but didn’t really see much value. I tried to write what we did on our summer vacation blogs, but they didn’t go anywhere. The only value in them was as an archive site for my vacation photos. It wasn’t until my husband and I decided to take 16-months off and ride our bikes around the world, that I discovered the power of blogs. I was now able to connect to fellow touring cyclists. We could follow people who were only a week or two ahead of us. We could ask them questions about the road conditions and what services were available in the various small towns that we passed through. We followed their journeys and they followed ours. We blogged to keep our families informed, but also as a way to connect with other touring cyclists. We became GoingEast. Seriously, when we met other cyclists on the road, they would ask if we were TravellingTwo or GoingEast. We were connected.
We used organizations like Servas International, Warmshowers, and Couchsurfing to help facilitate face-to-face connections. These organizations didn’t just provide us with a free place to stay, more importantly, they allowed us to connect to people we otherwise would not have met. These facilitated chance meetings were the highlights of our trip.
After returning home, there was this new tool – Twitter – that people were using. Again I didn’t see the value in it. I didn’t get it. Until one day, at an Ottawa chapter CSTD event, someone mentioned #lrnchat. I was then connected to people from around the world who were involved in corporate training. Suddenly, I could ask questions directly to the authors of various books. #lrnchat showed me how Twitter could be used to make connections.
When my husband and I travelled to Ghana, Togo, and Benin to attend the eLearn Africa conference in 2012, we again used Couchsurfing to help connect us to some local people, including a lovely women in Accra Ghana and a missionary in Doutou Benin. These are experiences that money cannot buy. They are also some of the most rewarding learning experiences. For example, I did not appreciate the challenges of getting electricity to rural areas in Africa until we visited Marianne in Doutou.
Last week, at the Emerging Technologies and Learning Conference (#et4online) I notice Twitter being used at a whole new level. This was the first conference were there was a critical mass of connected-educators. Instead of people asking what Twitter was, or asking how to use Twitter, people were asking what’s your Twitter handle (Note to conference organizers, include Twitter handles on name badges). Instead of using business cards as the currency for connecting, people were using Twitter handles. When you found yourself chatting to someone new, would share your Twitter handle, often opening up your phone to the Twitter app and adding that person to your network. I gave out a grand total of three business cards and that had more to do with showing off my recumbent bike than it did with actually sharing my contact information. I connected with many different people for the first time, many of whom I now call friends. Twitter (and Facebook) and our blogs will help keep us connected.
So yes, I’m a connected-scholar, but I’m also a connected-person.
Thank-you George V for writing about Couchsurfing and Networked Scholarship. Your post inspired this one.