Connections, couches, and scholarship

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.

 

5 Comments on Connections, couches, and scholarship

  1. Rebecca, yes it might be possible to train connectedness. With apprentices accompanying me to service calls on furnaces I considered customer contact vital so instead of having my helper unload the truck, she or he would be in on the conversation with the customer. It broke down any shyness and made the apprentice both more confident and feel like a real trades-person, not just the mule.
    Another thing is learning how to ask questions–especially when you are unsure of what exactly what you want to ask. Sometimes this doesn’t work and people won’t take the cue to be helpful but it’s an excellent way sort people who are too anal to be open. If they play along, drop them before you get discouraged. Connectivity is about breaking down hierarchies and discovering cool people to make your life richer.
    Maha, bet you couch surf here. Some of the older Lebanese families exchange children between homes. I see the teen aged girls from our neighbors house leaving for school from the Grandmother’s house. We used to have neighbors kids over too when their own parent had had enough and needed a break. In spite of your advanced years you could pass for a wayward teen in our town.
    Scott

  2. Thanks for writing this out with all the examples and links, Rebecca. It’s interesting to see other’s connected journeys. I think I’m the most connected person in my school in terms of online connected but face to face I’m probably reserved until I really know someone. I don’t know about everyone but I wouldn’t be able to do all the blog reading/commenting, Twitter and Facebook interactions if I was connecting all the time F2F. What about you?

    • Tania, you might not believe this, but I prioritize face-to-face connections. I am usually the one that makes the effort to set up reasons to connect with people. I rarely say no to social engagements. That being said, I also recently moved to California were I know very few people. I was diagnosed with breast cancer just after moving here, so I didn’t get a chance to establish a group of friends before having to go through treatment. I’m lucky that I have many new friends that I have met because of the breast cancer, but it is also a very different experience interacting with them then it is with educational technology people or academics. So, I think variety of connections is also an interesting question. Are we connecting only to people who are like us? Does the medium allow us to connect to more people of differing backgrounds or does it encourage us by connecting us with people who are too like us?

  3. Really enjoyed this, Rebecca. I have been asking/wondering if connectedness “is inherent or teachable?” for quite some time now. I keep wondering if the wonderful things people like you and I can do because of our connectdness is something I should be teaching and developing in others, or if it should come naturally to those for whom it would work, and we should just leave them alone… I like hearing your backstory and I have a similar one with using the internet in the early days (Telnet at the time; I never used IRC) and doing my master’s online (though in my time MSN Messenger also had audio). And of course discovering Twitter :) Interesting to hear about couchsurfing! Will check it out, even though culturally it’s difficult for people from here to either invite strangers or to spend nights at stranger’s houses. Like totally impossible, almost. At least if you’re as old as I am.

    • Interesting comment about Couchsurfing. I think that goes to demonstrate the difference in Muslim countries. We were invited in to stay with people in their homes in Turkey. In Syria, we were invited over for meals, but never invited to stay. That being said, our friends in Syria were Christian, so that too would be a different interaction. Servas International would probably be a better choice. They are still in the process of re-inventing themselves in the Internet era. When we were Servas travellers, things were still done on paper and typically required pre-arranging things – such that it was too difficult to use with our very flexible and open travel plans. For a more controlled and intentional experience Servas is great – they are very much about cultural exchange. One of our highlights was a day visit with Ramez – a Palestinian who lived in Jordan – http://goingeast.ca/blog/2009/01/15/a-brief-servas-visit/ – he really helped us better appreciate his perspective on the conflict that was going on at the time (Israel’s war on Gaza – Israel was bombing while we were in Jordan).

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