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Laura Gibbs

We do things better together ... in the open. Thoughts on #NTPoC (Unit 3).

8 min read

So, I finally broke down and logged on at NextThought to see what is going on inside Power of Connections. The theme of the week is open, but except for the great Twitter chat last week, it's really only been Rob, Stacy, and me participating in the open. As a result, I've been working more on my other projects rather than getting into . But I really am curious to find out more, and I do need a better sense of connecting for NTPoC to really work. Plus, as the meme today says, "We do things better together" — so, since the "together" of is happening inside the closed platform, I went to take a look, and I focused on the Activity Board. 

Inspired by the mapping activity, I was going to do a copy-and-paste to snag all the activity and do some formal analysis, but highlighting didn't work, so I just scrolled from top to bottom of the page, looking to see what I could see. Not surprisingly, most of the activity came from Rob (42 items) and Stacy (52 items); I could find this out by using Control-F. It looked like Michael Linville might have been the next most active with 14 items. Maha had 12; I'm not sure anybody else was in double digits. I'm not exactly sure what is represented on the activity board, though, so that's just a rough guess on my part based on what I saw on the screen.

I recognized many names from people I know from open online spaces: Michael Linville and Maha Abdelmoneim, along with Carrie Watkins, Mario Rosas, Meg Tufano, Brent Purkaple, et al. In addition, I did see nine names I did not recognize, but only one of them had filled out a NextThought profile, so these people remained mostly a mystery to me. The one person who had filled out a profile had posted four comments and did one activity, but she has not posted for a while. Since she included her Twitter in her profile, I am following her now at Twitter! 

This low level of participation matches what I saw at other NextThought courses, the one exception being the Chemistry of Beer course, and I think that provides a really great way to understand what is happening / not happening inside the closed platform. With Chemistry of Beer, there was a thriving community of interest that already existed before/outside of the course platform, and so the course inside the platform got all the benefit of that community as a kind of social capital Kickstarter: the community outside the platform was able to spread the word about the course to begin with, and then inside the platform, I am guessing there were all kinds of existing connections which provided a kind of network on which to build and extend, like a seed crystal in a saturated solution.

In the case of Power of Connections, despite the excellent activities from Rob and Stacy, there is not that benefit of the social capital Kickstarter to get things going inside the platform (a few people from NextThought, a few people from OU, but those are institutional identities, not exactly a community identity), and there's also not a lot of "saturation" in the solution, so to speak. The saturation as such seems to be coming from the abundant posts and comments from Rob and from Stacy, but that's not how the power of a course really gets unleashed, at least not in my experience: the powerful thing about connected learning is that the learners are the ones doing the actual day to day learning work, exploring, discovering, creating, sharing, etc., while the facilitators have the big burden before the course even begins, designing the spaces and experiences for the learners to explore. 

Just how much and how well learners interact with each other depends on all kinds of factors: the personal inclinations of the people involved, the types of learning experiences, and also the space and the tools students learners use to navigate the space.

But here's the thing: open spaces, unlike closed spaces, can foster connectivity among participants AND also across communities, so that people might be drawn into conversations, even if they are not "participating" in the course. And isn't that the main thing, after all? I honestly don't care much about "courses" per se (I have all the degrees I want or need), but I am deeply interested in the conversations that can extend my learning even farther, in directions not anticipated by any course syllabus, even an intentionally open-ended syllabus like the one for Power of Connections. 

Just as an example of an in-the-open that happened with me, let me give the genesis of how I made a brand-new connection this week because it is a chain of open connections that keeps on growing:

  • almost exactly a year ago I complained at Google+ about how Feedly was just not working for me, and how much I needed something like Google Reader... in response to that post, Stefan Heßbrüggen (teaching in Moscow, someone I know from shared Latin interests) suggested Inoreader, and it was love at first click: Inoreader was the PERFECT solution for me! ...
  • ... then, through my blogging and tweeting about Inoreader, I got to know Marjolein Hoekstra (who is in the Netherlands), one of the high priestesses of RSS, who has shared with me a TON of great stuff about Inoreader and RSS in general...
  • ... so, just this week, Marjolein DM'd me at Twitter with a link to a blog post by Todd Lohenry about his use of Inoreader...
  • ...and now Todd and I are connected at Twitter and G+ (he is a big Google+ person! yay!), and I'm also subscribed to his blog: he's already given me a good idea about how I can make better use of IFTTT which now offers Inoreader channel.

So, nobody planned any of this: it "just happened," but it was able to just happen because of open sharing online, with people who proactively sought out others and shared their knowledge and experience freely and eagerly. Stefan, Marjolein, and Todd and I all have some kind of overlapping interests, but at the same time we are very much pursuing our own paths that do not overlap at all, and of course geographically we do not overlap either. We are not taking a course together, and we are not a community, but we don't need to be in a course or identify as a community in order to learn from each other: we just need to be connected.

I really believe in connected learning and learning together, and I have yet to experience a powerful learning experience INSIDE a closed platform, despite numerous attempts on many different platforms; it's even harder when the platform is cut off from the rest of a person's online presence, as happens when people don't fill out a profile that links to their open space(s) outside the platform, as was the case when I looked for new people to connect with at NextThought this morning. 

As for connected learning experiences in the open, I enjoy them every single day, and there are always stories that make me excited about what the next day will hold, like this little story about how I connected with Todd this week. Even better: the more connections like that I make, the more connections I am likely to make in the future because, unlike a closed so-called learning management platform, the open Internet really is infinite in its possibilities. And my curiosity is... boundless.

So, as I promised Rob yesterday, I'm going to find some time today to set up an Inoreader hub for to see if people can be tempted to try one connected experiment using an open tool (anything with RSS or via a Twitter hashtag). It will actually be a gigantic mess to start with since I didn't have it set up from the start, but at least we can capture the last part of the course with an aggregator and see how it looks! I wonder if we had had something like that in place, the people who did give PoC a try might have stuck with it longer...? Anyway, it will be fun to get that set up since I am in the process of setting up one for  my Growth Mindset project right now too. By doing that twice, I will get some practice at figuring out the most effective/efficient way to use Inoreader for making these types of aggregation hubs!