Failed Networks No More!

Clive Thompson’s article Why Successful Networks Nurture Good Ideas has really enlightened me on how networks are not a new idea at all, but really technology and globalization has changed the WHO and HOW of networking. Thompson’s explains that in the past we have only focused on one part of literacy- reading, but not on writing. Although creative or critical writing has been part of school for years, emphasis has always been on reading. Thompson argues that digital communication has changed this:

We are now a global culture of avid writers, one almost always writing for an audience. When you write something online—whether it’s a one-sentence status update, a comment on someone’s photo, or a thousand-word post—you’re doing it with the expectation that someone might read it, even if you’re doing it anonymously.

Having an audience can clarify thinking. It’s easy to win an argument inside your head. But when you face a real audience, you have to be truly convincing.

This has done two things: we have shifted from a culture that focuses just on learning to read, to one that allows EVERYONE to be able to write, and this encourages through our writing to be critical and creative thinkers. It is no longer just scholars that have access to good information and that write about their ideas in cited journals (the old form of networking limited to academics), but digital technology has allowed anyone that is interested to have access to information and think critically about the materials they find and explore their own ideas in a public forum. What is interesting about this to me is that having an audience that reaches across the world has motivated us or helped to raise the metaphorical bar for our thinking and writing. Thompson  talks about the audience effect, which actually is grounded in the social psychological research of Norman Triplett:

Social scientists have identified something called the audience effect—the shift in our performance when we know people are watching. It isn’t always positive. In live, face-to-face situations, like sports or concerts, the audience effect can make athletes or musicians perform better—but it can sometimes psych them out and make them choke, too.

Yet studies have found that the effort of communicating to someone else forces you to pay more attention and learn more.

Therefore, the digital communication via social media and other online tools has given anyone that chooses an audience to perform for. Now, the audience-effect research speaks to passive audiences having an impact on individual’s behaviour or performance (in this case writing and writing more critically), but I believe that digital communication can exponentially increase this pressure to perform better in our writing because of the understanding that other individuals can opening share your work and respond to it, question it, or challenge it. It is not simply the mass numbers that could access your work as Thompson points out that even a small audience of 10  can create the audience-effect, but the fact that individuals’ writing is now accessible for world wide sharing and criticism that forces us to think about what we write and how we write it.

Digital communication has only improved networking by allowing anyone to share ideas and allowing anyone to access them very efficiently. In the past networks were limited to those that did scholarly or research type work and their networking was done via print forms such as journals or at scheduled lectures. Therefore new ideas could easily be duplicated because of what Thompson calls failed networks.

And making connections is a big deal in the history of thought—and its future. That’s because of a curious fact: If you look at the world’s biggest breakthrough ideas, they often occur simultaneously to different people

I had never really thought about networking like this before, but it makes sense. Networking is the best way to share you ideas/ work and collaborate to create new ideas or advancements for the world. However, limited communication vehicles of the past prevented networks from sometimes happening and slowed the development of ideas or advancements for society. Now the hyperlink can connect folks instantly to related content or to individuals that are work on similar ideas. Isn’t that exponential! Networking can occur so quickly and connections can be made that can encourage us to write and to think as we write. Even if we  start as passive readers, the ability to post is at our fingertips and we will be tempted as will think about what we are reading.

Thompson’s ideas have really encouraged me to think about the positive power of digital networking, which is facilitating reading AND writing literacy for everyone. Often social media and online tools have been criticized for the destructive things that have happened on the web- cyber-bullying, personal information leaked, negative influence of pop culture

and the negative propaganda/ control of mass media,

an employee getting in trouble for posting something about their employer, or a parent ranting about a teacher or a school and tarnishing their reputation. A decade ago we could turn off the TV or radio or choose not to purchase the newspaper or magazine with sensational stories. Now mass media is connected to all our digital communications tools and it is very difficult to avoid reading. So how do we navigate and how do we filter? What are the impacts on children and how do we develop our mass media and digital literacy in a positive way for children and adults? I do not have the answers today, but I think it is easy to get pulled into the negative conversations individuals are posting, into being influenced almost subliminally by mass media, and making assumptions that what you have read is fact just because it is posted. So as we embark on networking and building our writing skills, we must also become technologically literate and critical about what we post, what we share, and what validate on the web so that our networking is progressive rather than destructive. Defining the future of digital communication, learning, and development of ideas  can change the world for the better. lifelonglearner1blog said so well how, teachers can address social justice in their classrooms and empower their students using blogs:

The implications for using blogging as a way for students to become better writers and to become more socially aware are tremendous.  Young adults and even young children are often motivated when learning about injustices around the world.  They can also be quite creative in thinking of ways that they can do something about a cause that is important to them.

So on that reflective thought, I’m curious to know you opinion on why teachers are apprehensive about using digital technology, social media and open learning as a format for inquiry-based/student directed learning in their classrooms? Is it because of a lack of technological literacy- know how to use the tools effectively OR is it because of the fear that the digital word is overly negative? Depending on  which reason it is, will help us to support educators in using digital technology beyond word processing and searching for quick facts on Google!


One thought on “Failed Networks No More!

  1. I’m mostly hesitant to plan to use technology, because not all of my students have devices, and the devices provided by the division are inconsistent in their performance and availability.


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