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Laura Gibbs

Power of Connections: Getting Started — Unit One, Lesson One: Definitions

7 min read

I got Rob's email this morning and I wanted to do some "Power of Connections" stuff today since I am going to be out of town for the rest of the week. My goal is to participate in this class in open spaces since I'm not a fan of closed learning spaces... and that turns out to be a theme of the course, so I am glad I did log in to see what's going on on Day One (and yes, I had to get a username reminder and a password reminder because is not a space that is part of my daily routine). I'm going to use Known here since I really do want to get to know that platform better, and it offers a hashtag specific feed, so that should work for connecting with others. Rob has also kindly invited me to participate in the Blogger blog here — The Power of Connections — and I'll probably be writing some posts there also, but I'll see if I can get more familiar with Known as part of this process, esp. if I want to be a Known evangelist with my students this Fall! So... here goes!


I quickly found my way to the first lesson, which included both a written dialogue between Rob and Stacy and a video. The video is on Vimeo (YAY!), which means I can share it here: The Power of Connections: Interview with Stacy Zemke, OER Coordinator for the University of Oklahoma.

The Power of Connections: Interview with Stacy Zemke, OER Coordinator for the University of Oklahoma from NextThought on Vimeo.


I watched the video, but the most useful part of the presentation was not so much the information in the video, but something that emerged in the text dialogue that frames the video. There are two definitions that Rob and Stacy put out there for us to consider (and thank goodness for text: I can copy and paste!):

ONE: Student engagement is moving students to reflect on information genuinely, apply it personally, and connect it to their community.

TWO: Learner engagement is ultimately about helping people make as many connections as possible within that network of possibilities. The more connections,the more engaged a person is. The more engaged, the more enduring the learning experience.

It is that second definition that really clicks for me. Here's a kind of story of the "networked me" in 2015:

As a child, I was very aware of that "network of possibilities" in the form of BOOKS, books that connected me to other people (the authors of those books) and also to other worlds (I carried on imaginary dialogues with all my favorite characters). Sometimes, if I was lucky, I was able to use those books to make connections with other people who shared a love of those books. I could rattle off a hundred book titles, but just as one example, I read and re-read and re-read the Earthsea trilogy by Ursula LeGuin, and I still love to re-read these books. These are the bookcovers of the tattered paperbacks of my childhood:

We moved around a lot as a child, and I had trouble making friends, but books were my constant companions (they moved with me), and they were also a kind of secret code I could use to see if I might connect with kids in the new school. I was bored and frustrated in school because the curriculum seemed to ignore the fact that I was part of this amazing network of connections; the books I was reading (and I read a TON of books) really mattered to me, always leading me to new and more things to think and imagine, while school seemed like a series of dead-end, meaningless experiences culminating in quizzes and tests and other forms of utter tedium.

So, when I first got online (I made my first webpages back in late 1998 and was hooked from the first webpage!), the idea of an online network made perfect sense to me, and it was like a dream come true: instead of carrying a network around in my head (the books were all disconnected, separated from one another physically, and I was the one toting the network of connections in my neurons, feeling very much alone a lot of the time, very much "in my head"), now I could be part of an externalized network, connecting in visible form with others, sharing those idea, spreading those ideas, learning even more than before. Not just pieces of paper, but PEOPLE.

Books are still a big part of the network, and I still read a lot, but I read so many other things besides books AND I write so much more than I did before. I always saw myself as a reader, but the Internet turned me into a writer... and while I felt mostly alone for much of my life, the advent of truly social networks online has changed that for me completely. With books, I knew I would never feel bored, and with the Internet, I know I don't have to feel alone. I know that is not the experience everybody has with books or with the Internet, but that is definitely my experience, so this notion of "making as many connections as possible within that network of possibilities" really (REALLY) resonates with me.

Information versus NETWORKS of information 

Here's where the first definition above loses me: information. Without some communication context, information is a word that doesn't work for me, which is why the idea of connectedness is crucial. There is an infinite amount of "information" out there in the world (if you want to blow your mind, read Gleick's The Information... best book I have read on that, absolutely fabulous IMO), and in order to let information rise to my level of consciousness so that I really focus on it and think about it, I need the information to ALREADY be connected to something: connected to other information that matters to me as a person, connected to other people who matter to me, information that I have come into contact with through my own active efforts, information that, in short, I actually CARE about for some reason. I'm guessing that the idea of caring about the information is implied in this definition — Student engagement is moving students to reflect on information genuinely, apply it personally, and connect it to their community — but I need something to make that more explicit, something that acknowledges this is information I care about, information that I have come into contact with and chosen to focus on, information that matters to me for some reason, even if I have not yet fully explored its meaning. The connection cannot just be something I make after the fact ex nihilo. The connection has to be there already to bring the information to my attention.

That's why I really like the focus on a learning NETWORK in the other definition. I am acutely aware of how information comes to me because it flows through networks, and that is a network of persons who are creating and sharing information: authors of books, writers of blogs, tweeters of tweets, smilers of smiles, etc. The information that comes to me through my network is very likely something that matters to me, so it is worth my paying attention to it, and the network is what also gives me the opportunity (and motivation) to engage to begin with.

... Eeeek: that turned out to be a far longer ramble than expected... and I still want to do some more work before starting to pack up for very early flight tomorrow. So, I will happily add the hashtag here, and then go share this at Twitter and G+ also. I'll be out of town for the rest of this week but thanks to the asynchronous power of the written word, I'll be able to check back and see what others are saying about this first lesson for the course, using the hashtag to conect. Whoo-hoo!

Update: The RSS for is working!