How I Connect To People Online

D'Arcy Norman poses the question, "How do you connect to people online?" This post is my response to that question.

It's this blog that I value the most as a connection point with others. It's where I started dabbling in this networked way, where I connected to my first edublogger colleagues, people who I hadn't met but whose words and ideas drew me in and got me writing and sharing my own little piece of the world. Through comments left by others and by responding to comments on others' blogs, I widened my circle of connections and the network started branching out in unexpected, intriguing pathways.

New concepts like Leigh Blackall's networked learning, Will Richardson's connective writing and Konrad Glogowski's classroom learning communities were all new perspectives that I would not have encountered in a non-digitally connected world. They taught me about the transferability and reinterpretation of new ideas, as much as someone more recently like Dan Meyer with his "Be Less Helpful" mantra.

It's probably because I enjoy the process of writing that this particular outlet has such appeal. I've migrated and used other tools to connect - ning, Twitter, delicious, and even more recently Second Life but invariably, my network has been built on the back of edubloggers or secondary connections from those edubloggers. There are those people who started their connection in a similar fashion at a similar point in time - people like Jo McLeay, Darren Kuropatwa and James Matthew Nelson. Initially, I felt an obligation to add anyone who read my blog (identified via comments) to my blog reader and thanks to a feature in Bloglines that I used at the time, anyone who I could identify from the subscriptions list. But interestingly for a bloke who hasn't all that much new to add to the conversation, the readership has grown beyond that need for reciprocal subscribing. I realised that I can't read and converse with everyone who reads this blog, and that are many bloggers who I read who don't know that I exist!

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This realisation certainly helped me to manage my usage of a tool like Twitter where I can have a massive disproportion between followed and following. I must confess that I feel more comfortable in the asychronous world of the blog post where I can write something, set it free, see whether it strikes any chords out there than the weirdly hybrid synchronicity of the 140 character "Is anyone reading this? Whoops, now I'm having a conversation." I share better from my ramblings here than by pumping out URL shortened tidbit links - that's just not my skill set and there are plenty of others who do that much, much better.

The connection to others is very hard to explain. There are others out there scattered across the globe to whom I have felt a collegial connection; a new type of friendship that starts with a shared interest in web based and enable learning but manifest itself in a desire to find out a little more about the person behind the blog and have a much more personal conversation. It's interesting - sometimes people connect to what I write and sometimes they connect just to me as the person they have gotten to know via this blog, twitter exchanges, invitations to participate in projects and Skype conversations (although these happen much less often than they used to). Alex, Doug, Chris, Ken and Darren are all more than just names in an aggregator or a contact list - I think of them as friends who would help me if I needed it.

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I don't venture that far from home either - a combination of family commitments and a job that doesn't require much travel - but via these connections, the long term comment exchanges, the occasional Skype chats and the @messages on Twitter, I've managed to meet quite a few other educators both far and near. I can still recall having a meal with Michael Coghlan and Alan Levine with only half his voice left during his speaking tour down under and hosting Tom Barrett and his family for dinner at our place was simply a delight. None of this possible without online connection. I get hints from others like Clay, Dean and Chris that should I ever venture into their neighbourhood, the welcome mat is already waiting.

How do I do the connecting? The work day is invariably very busy and I have this two hour window from 8.30 - 10.30 pm each evening after the boys are in bed where I can open up the laptop and do a task switching blend of planning, reading, chatting and exploring. My iPhone has become the most constant connection now, as it is easy to just turn on and connect whenever a spare opportunity arises. I use a Pageflakes startpage to jump off into various places, I use GMail and Google Reader, Tweetdeck on the laptop, Twitterific on the iPhone and I keep a watchful eye on some of the Nings I have joined, my delicious network feed and the occasional Skype chat. I'm still getting past that "ghost town" feeling whenever I venture into Second Life and find it interesting that some of my real world insecurities in social situations have followed me in there. Writing like this in text form seems to be comparatively liberating.

The longer I have played in this digital world, the wider and more diverse my network has become. It probably has an overwhelmingly "education flavour" to it all but that's OK with me because the spread of educational situations is so varied. I'm not quite the free ranger - in fact, I am still bemused that anyone finds what I have to say to be of importance - as if something works, I tend to stick with it.

So, D'Arcy, there you have it. My response to your prompt. Your blog was amongst the first added to my aggregator. Yours was one of the first where I saw fit to criticise a blog post. Your education world is vastly different me here in suburban Adelaide but there you have it, we're connected. In the loose, multi-directional, serendipitous cluster of nodes that make up my Personal Learning Network, this is how I connect to people online.

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7 thoughts on “How I Connect To People Online

  1. Allanah King

    When I first started blogging I was overjoyed when someone left a comment, any comment, on anything. That feeling still remains. It is proof that someone, somewhere is reading. And like you I followed them right back. But now I don’t feel bad sometimes marking ‘all as read’ in my RSS and not reading everything.

    I remember when I first started with Twitter- I would read back until I ad caught up on every single tweet- impossible now so I make sure I read my @allanahk tweets and I follow anyone who does @ me. People follow me who have never engaged with me so I every now and again do a bit of a cull to keep the whole thing manageable.

  2. Doug Noon

    I agree with you about the blog being the main thing. But unlike you, I decided to make it the only thing – for simplicity’s sake, mostly. I nuked my Twitter account after trying it for about 6 months and realizing that I was no good at it and would never get good at it. And then there’s the fact that it’s blocked at work…. I follow a couple of people now by subscribing to their Twitter feeds in the Google Reader, and that’s about all the Twitter I can manage.

    For various reasons, I feel more dis-connected now than a couple of years back. A lot of people seem to have gone elsewhere, which is completely understandable. I’ve backed off the blog a little, myself, choosing to put more energy into my personal life. I’m still in contact with a few people who I met online several years ago, though, and that’s nice. It’s always good to hear from you, Graham.

  3. Graham Wegner

    @Michael Thanks!

    @Allanah Yes, Twitter has the potential to be quite an overwhelming tool. The trick is to work out the point where you still control its use rather than the reverse. I still think that educators have a unique take on how to subvert Twitter for learning purposes that the mainstream doesn’t quite get.

    @Doug It’s always good to hear from you, too. I hadn’t really thought about managing interesting Twitter feeds via a RSS feed so that is a new angle for me. I can understand the dis-connection perspective as well although I think that my experience during much of 2009 has been better described as less-connection. Maybe it’s just my workload, my wife Joanne heading back to the classroom part time for the first time for a few years or just needing to sink more time into the family. Anyway, I don’t feel the need to fully immersed in social media all of the time to be aware of the potential for learning.

  4. leighblackall

    Thumbs up G you’re true blue.

    Over the years ive noticed weakenings. I saw it most clearly when I moved to nz. It felt as if my connection with ozzy edubloggers broke for some reason. Recently I went to Vancouver thinking it would strengthen my connection those Yanks and Mounties but the opposite seemed to happen!

    Perhaps the initial burst of international connection has faded in significance as we yern for relocalsation? Or perhaps old connections fade like memories and friends..

  5. FutureTeacher

    I have enjoyed reading your blog and have to confess that I have done it to fulfill a technology assignment for my K-8 certificate program. I have been introduced to blogging and the technology world during this program, which has been really intriguing. I’ve enjoyed the numerous topics of blogs as they have made me think a little more in depth on the topic, a plus to education. As I finish up the program, I have high hopes of continuing my blog and reaching out to other educators. How did you stick to it though? What advice would you give to a first year teacher and how they should use blogging to enrich their teaching and continual education?

    -futureteacher in Seattle, WA


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