Hooking into the Network

Networked learning is a strange concept. It isn’t something that should be special, because it is so much of how we process the world. We connect with the things around us to remember people, places, smells, sounds, and general sensations. But we waste so much time learning in a static and stuffy manner that suddenly the way we naturally process the world became a new and creative concept.

I earned an undergraduate and a masters degree with nothing but class time and some lab hours. The amount of information I’ve retained from those degrees is minuscule despite the years invested. Meanwhile, since I’ve been at VT I’ve had to present my work multiple times, I’ve had to interact with people outside my degree, and I’ve actually started building a network. This reinforces my own knowledge while connecting me with people I can talk to when I reach a topic outside of my comfort zone.

Interacting with the “real world” forces students and people, in general, to reevaluate what they are doing and saying in a way that enhances understanding and retention. At the best of times, people fact check and correct your mistakes making learning that much better. Sometimes they’ll do this in hurtful ways, but that is yet another learning experience. Getting a B on a paper and no other marks hardly teaches me to learn from my mistakes. Meanwhile, @blogjerk496 (I hope no one actually has this handle) telling me I’m an idiot and should have researched x, y, and z before talking about the origin of the alphabet gives me a chance to correct myself and learn some new information.

What I think we really need to teach in classrooms is how to connect to, build, and utilize our networks. Blogging, Facebook, and Twitter are a start, but how do we actually grow those communities beyond close friends, classmates, and maybe our parents? How do I invite amazing speakers to talk to my student group? Heck, how do I get people into my student group and to care as much as I do about the group? Once the network starts to build I imagine you can facilitate discussions to learn from their experiences. Actually having those discussions can be difficult for some, but for me, I’m not even that far yet. I’ve got some distant peers that I hope to run into at another conference, but that’s about it. Should I track those people down and follow them on Twitter? Facebook stalk them or remind them that they have a LinkedIn? Even if I do connect, how what do I discuss? I can hold my own in a room fairly well but over the internet in 140 characters or whatever? That’s so far outside my comfort zone right now.

What do my classmates think? How have you developed your networks? Do you wish you could add something to it (like international collaborators or diversity)?

6 Replies to “Hooking into the Network”

  1. Hey Brad !

    It’s great that you are welcoming stepping out of your comfort zone given that the number of anonymous @blogjerk96s has grown exponentially! But, jokes aside, one of the better aspects of blogging is that it creates a community of people more interested in thinking slowly and deeply rather than browsing, scrolling and Reacting. Like you, I am excited about experimenting with all these different mediums, twitter, gram, blogging. In each I find myself speaking with a different voice and interacting with a different circle of people.

    1. Arash – I’m hoping I can figure out how to sync up my twitter and my blog, but I haven’t had the time to sit down and check that out yet. That way maybe I can keep my voice a little more consistent…maybe? I don’t what’s better though, consistency or adaptability.

  2. Hi Brad,
    I like that you used the word “network” to mean more than the technical applications. While Twitter, Facebook, etc., can be helpful in learning so can traditional networking, like collaborating with other students/professors outside of our own departments and attending conferences. I think the key is really reaching out to others and we can’t do that in either manual or technical silos, we must embrace all ways to connect. Thanks for your post.

    1. Thank you for the comment! My first two degrees/institutions missed out on a lot of the external networking like conferences, so I’ve put a heavy focus on it while at VT. So far my advisor has used his network quite a bit to get me up to speed on topics that aren’t his expertise. He’s been able to give me contacts that will throw me a paper or two and it’s been super helpful while not wasting anyone’s time.

  3. Thanks for you post, Brad. And you’ve got some great responses in the comments as well. I also appreciate the way you see networking as being an IRL relationship — digital environments can amplify and reinforce those, as well as bring new ones into being. And we all have to figure out a mode that works for us. I think I would nudge you to track down the conference network people on Twitter if that’s where they hang out. When you aren’t going to physically be in proximity you have to find community where it’s happening.

  4. I did end up trying to track down one of the students, from my last conference, but he doesn’t seem to have a Twitter. I’ll have to be more diligent for my next conference.

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