Networks Of Expertise

The concepts of networks, groups and communities has me fascinated. The more I read, the less clear I am about what are the defining qualities of each word. I actually suspect that all three words mean different things to different people. Not only that but I suspect that what people think that others think is also not necessarily aligned. But that doesn't stop one person (this is not an allusion to any one individual in particular) from believing that they have someone's definition pegged. So I keep reading, hoping for clarity. I've seen all three terms debated on the TALO Groups list. Irena White there proposed that communities sat as the halfway point between networks and groups. I piped in and said that I thought a community was one variation of a group -

Actually, I'm not too sure that the whole idea of community in an online setting isn't a bit of a utopian buzzword. To me, a community is
a group.

- I should have shut up - because it isn't a definition that I can back up with argument and logic. Irena's original observation backed onto a long exchange of views between Teemu Leinonen and Stephen Downes on the same list and its sibling list, FLNW - a list that grew out of the Leigh Blackall inspired travelling unconference of the same acronym. Those two weren't even using the word community in that discussion.

Community as a term gets bandied around a lot these days and it's because of that, I have a hard time being sure what someone means when they mention the edublogging community. I mean, we have "community of learners", staff and leadership at my site refer to the "school community", some people choose to live in a "gated community" and then volunteers help out "the less fortunate in the community." So, if you are involved in a particular activity, maybe stamp collecting as an example, are you automatically part of that community? Or do you have the choice to join, or to stand alone, or even to start your own stamp collecting community? How about the idea of community leaders? How does that work? Are the leaders acknowledged as such because they've collected the most stamps, or have been collecting for the longest time, or because they've accumulated the largest knowledge base on the subject of stamps? Or maybe the leaders are the people helping others to start their own stamp collections or organising stamp based events for the community (however it is defined)?

When I first started blogging way back in August of 2005, I was totally in awe of Will Richardson. Here was this bloke who was a grand pioneer of blogging in education, had generated a lot of momentum for emerging technologies in the classroom and was writing his own book, for goodness sake. I loved reading his thought provoking posts (still do) and somewhere in my twisted brain, I thought that if my efforts at education blogging attracted his notice, then maybe I was on the right track. I badly wanted to develop a blog that attracted insightful comments, promoted quality reflection and yes, that would be noticed by the luminaries of my newly compiled blogroll. I felt frustrated when bloggers starting out at the same time as me attracted praise in the posts of Weblogg-ed. Don't get me wrong - their accolades were well deserved and I was pleased that they were being highlighted - but what was missing from my own posts?

So, you can see I was a bit self-absorbed back then but maybe I was looking for my version of online community. Now I'm not sure that the concept of community is all that important. In Will, I think I saw a community leader and his approval then would have rubber stamped in my mind my membership of the edublogger community. But does such a community really exist? And if it does, what would qualify someone to claim membership? Can one maintain an online presence and connect to others via blogging without officially being considered part of a community?

So as my blogging skills improved, as my writing found its ''voice'' and became more authentic, others from different parts of the world and from different sectors of education and different walks of life became important nodes in my Learning Network. The methods and means of discovery were varied. I found amazing sources of new ideas and inspiration in the Aussie and Kiwi VTE sector, I could relate to the gritty, warts'n'all classroom practitioners in far flung parts of the North American continent, I was challenged by radicals and free thinkers sometimes reviled by more mainstream edubloggers and if this is a community, then the pieces don't fit together neatly at all. But they don't need to. I want to include in my aggregator bloggers who reject groupthink as much as I want to benefit from the camraderie and the mutual work-hard-for-the-benefit-of-others more group orientated bloggers. I think I can have the benefits of both styles of learning and thinking. Minh McCloy in the same TALO thread summed up my thoughts pretty well:

Compulsory grouping is very hard on the solitaries amongst us. Choosing instead, to establish links with others who offer possibilities potentialities is an attractive alternative. Groupers often feel so rejected when an individual doesn't want to group with them. Groupers will sometimes lash out & call such folk sad & lonely - or even witches & heretics.

The K-12 Online Conference seems to be generating a sense of community amongst many edubloggers - maybe there are some who feel that the Conference helped to solidify the concept of an edublogger community. Darren Kuropatwa has been mulling over some of these aspects as well, but sees some negative aspects I'm a bit unaware of. (That's not unusual for me, though!)

There are a lot more educational bloggers now. The community has ballooned and continues to grow. The camaraderie that came from the sharing spirit (which still dominates most discussions) is being questioned. And while maybe that's a good thing, it hurts those that are just doing what they've always done; trying to share what they've learned. Perhaps selfishly -- in the hope that someone will reciprocate that sharing -- but essentially following the collaborative ethos that has permeated educational blogging.

I don't think that camraderie has ever been questioned from where I sit. And trying to share what's been learned is what this post is about. I'm still no closer to really understanding what community means to me.

Or to anyone else, for that matter.

Darren's final comment on his post is worth repeating though.

So bring on the critical analysis of our practices and thinking! It is through those conversations that we learn and grow. Let us also leave behind the dim coloured lenses that obscure each others thinking and ideas. If that's where the conversation is headed, then I'm not prepared to participate in it.

Maybe, I've been lucky that negativity hasn't really come my way. I've been able to pick and choose to participate here and there in many great things and move between many different spheres of influence. I wouldn't and couldn't throw my lot in to be part of one identified edublogger community - and I don't think such a thing exists. With all due respects to Will Richardson, I don't seek or need his approval or acknowledgement anymore.

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3 thoughts on “Networks Of Expertise

  1. Will Richardson

    Hey Graham,

    The community (in whatever iteration you define it) is stronger today because educators like you have chosen to share their voices and become a part of the learning. The only rubber stamp anyone needs to be a part of this comes from within, comes from a desire to keep learning and evolving which you obviously have. I think congratulations are in order! ;0)



  2. Graham

    Post author

    Thanks, Will, I appreciate your thoughts. Although I stated that I don’t need rubber stamping from you as my example (or Leigh or Doug or Jo or Artichoke or anyone else who I read avidly and whose ideas I grapple with) it is a real pleasure that you decide to add your voice here anyway. I still think that it would be great if you could make it down under sometime – even for a virtual event in the manner that we had Barbara Ganley earlier this year. Cheers!


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