Community – Formerly Known as Audience

A bridge is a sticky connector only if people need to get to the other side (( Leszczynski, Janusz. “Alexandria Bridge.” Janusz L’s Photostream. 28 Aug 2009. Flickr, Web. 23 Nov 2009. <>. ))

It appears to have started with a Facebook status update from Science Leadership Academy Principal, Chris Lehmann.

When having audience is no longer novel, simply having one is no longer motivating.  We still must help kids have something powerful to say.

Saskatchewan educator, Dean Shareski, continues the point in a blog post, Why Audience Matters, followed by fellow Canadian (Snow Lake, Manitoba), Clarence Fisher in his post, Those Formerly Known as the Audience.  Finally, it all came to my attention, when Jeff Utecht tweeted a link to his installment on the conversation, Audience as Community.  I strongly recommend you read all three of these blog posts because, together, they cover a wide range of reasons why audience is important to student learners.

My immediate response to the whole issue was a mild disagreement with Chris’ initial post.  He may be right, and he’s certainly in a better position than me to see it first hand.  But I’ve had numerous Class Blogmeister teachers say that “classroom” as audience seems to be just about as motivating as arranging for people around the world read and respond. 

I suspect that the world-reach thrill of blogging might be novel and might wear off.   But it occurs to me that the true power of working within an audience, as opposed to performing in front of an audience (writing to the teacher, what you thing the teacher wants to read), is the power of conversation.  It’s knowing that somebody (even the guy in the next row) is reading what you are writing (not measuring it), and that the reader may respond to what you’ve written, pushing you to rethink and respond back.

It’s the potential of adding something valuable to somebody else’s thinking — the potential of becoming valuable.

I usually mention three qualities of personal learning networks when I do presentations on the subject — that PLNs are:

  1. Personal — They’re shape and function is completely up to the the ongoing needs of the learner.
  2. Both Spontaneous and Directed — Some learning experiences can result from careful cultivation of the network, and some simply happen because you are connected.
  3. Connective — The network of people and sources are held together not by wires, routers, and HTML links.  It is a network of ideas.

It’s this last one, connectiveness, that I think may be pertinent to this conversation.  There has to be something between the network nodes besides the concept of audience.  There has to be something sticky there, something that helps, something that offers value, an intrinsic reason for the conversation.  If you are connecting your class to another class in Scotland, then there needs to be something in the perspective or experience of those Scottish students that helps your students accomplish their goals, and it must be a goal that is more than academic or schoolie.  It has to be a goal your students identify with — that they want to accomplish.

This network of ideas is one of my favorite aspects of personal learning networks.  The people I am connected to are not part of my network because we look the same, speak the same native language, follow the same religous doctrine, or share identical cultural traits.  We connect through our ideas, because what we do provokes us to share those ideas, and we all benefit.  Even the photo that I include at the top of this post comes from a temporary PLN connection with Janusz Leszczynski, simple because he (she) once took a picture of a bridge and labeled it bridge and I, months later, was looking for a picture of a bridge to symbolize connection.  The ideas were experienced at different times, but the ideas’ stickness lasted on.

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Social Network for Graduate Students — Built by a Graduate Student

Picture of The Graduate Junction Web SiteThose of you who follow me on Twitter know that I’ve been thinking a lot about social networks — or trying to.  I’ve just not gotten enough sustained time to really put any thing down on paper.  This morning I’m waking up in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, which is great.  I just jumped in my little car and drove over, yesterday afternoon, taking a meandering array of back roads to get here.

While scanning through my aggregator this morning, I ran across something that looks about as close to what I’m thinking about as ALMOST anything I’ve seen so far.  It’s The Graduate Junction, which I learned about through this Wired Campus article.  In the article, the products developer, Daniel M. Colgate, answers some questions about Grad Junction, saying about Facebook,

It is already so big, and nobody I know would consider putting a technical keyword into the groups search there. I have discussed using Facebook groups with many friends and contacts, and they agree with me: It is just too big to be useful. They would prefer a more focused academic site. ((Fischman, Josh. “Networking, but Not Intimidating, Graduate Students.” The Chronicle of Higher Education 13 Aug 2008 14 Aug 2008 <>. ))

I would tend to agree, though I’m also interested in other limitations of these canned networks.  Anyway, according to the tour of Graduate Junction, you share through your network profile your research interests, publications you have, specific research skills you’ve acquired, professional associations, research links, and general notes added to your research blog. ((“Tell the World.” The Graduate Junction. The Graduate Junction. 14 Aug 2008 <>. ))

Through the Network, members can,

  • Search to find researchers who share your research interests
  • Discuss and exchange useful information via email
  • Create virtual ‘Research Links’ to bookmark the research profiles you are interested in
  • Join existing online research groups or create your own. Communicate online using Group forums
  • Broaden your horizons by widening your interests ((“Get Connected.” The Graduate Junction. The Graduate Junction. 14 Aug 2008 <>. ))

It’s still a container, but I like the dedicated way that it provokes connections between researchers.  I’m looking for a way to make this happen among educators, who almost by definition, are isolated.

Social Networks for the Dogs

Brenda sent me a link to this article from the WRAL web site in Raleigh.  It made me chuckle.  It made me ask, “Why didn’t I think of that!”  It made me ask, “Woe!  We have way to much time on our hands.”

At Doggyspace, social networking goes to the dogs ::

Doggyspace LogoCici confesses on her Web page that she likes to greet everyone by licking their feet.

Dolce admits to being a mamma’s boy. And Jake and Tycho posted a video that chronicles their adventures of rolling around on their backs. It’s not on Facebook or MySpace, but the canine equivalent –

A crossbreed between MySpace and YouTube, Doggyspace allows dog owners from all over the world to come together, create profiles, and share photos and videos of their pups.

The Virginia-based site is part of a growing trend of niche, or content-focused, social networking sites that target interest groups looking to connect with like-minded people.

Then that last sentence struck me, “..trend of niche, or content-focused, social networking sites that target interest groups looking to connect with like-minded people.”  Isn’t that what mailing lists were doing 25 years ago?  What’s the difference?  What’s new?  Well, certainly, there is a lot that is new.  But it’s still people going into containers, where they have access only to people of like minds.

I continue to think that we’re missing something here.  What’s so valuable about my social network is that I connect to people through their ideas and through their reactions to my ideas (positive and negative).

More to come!