(Note: To better view the images please click on them. A pop-up window will provide an enlarged view.)
In this cartoon, written on the back of a business card, Hugh Mcleod captures the very essence of the dramatic transformation created by the evolving Read/Write Web: Ivory towers, market and knowledge monopolies, and isolationist endeavors are losing value to the explosive power of the transparent, free, and highly connected NETWORK. Businesses are getting it (check out IBM's use of social networking and collaborative tools and Forbes' May 2007 issue on the network); young and old alike are getting it (30% of American adults are Elite Users of technology in a connective way and over 55% of online teens use social networking sites-see Pew Internet and American Life Project); philanthropy is getting it; and as I have written before The MacArthur Foundation considers the network important enough to invest $50 million in a 5 -ear study of Digital Media and Learning. Most recently...
The MacArthur Foundation announced a public competition that will award $2 million in funding to emerging leaders, communicators, and innovators shaping the field of digital media and learning.
Their website alone reflects the value they place on the new networked culture. Why are they making this investment? Perhaps it is because educational institutions are slow to embrace change; and the change underway is a fundamental shift that places a higher value on connections,"one's network", than on "one (isolated) node."
How do you show the uninitiated how the connectivity of this network impacts learning? How do you take the plunge yourself? As my good friend MT remarked about writing after spending a weekend with author Sue Monk Kidd, "You've just got jump in and start doing it"! As an adult, I couldn't agree more. That is why I started learning how to blog, use RSS, socially bookmark with del.icio.us, post photos to Flickr, build Ning social networks, and establish wikis. By engaging in these networked environments, I learn like I've never learned before.
Let's look at two examples which will help visually demonstrate (1) the concept of the network and (2) the value of the network for learning. First, let's explore the del.icio.us network. Del.icio.us is a social bookmarking service that collects its users' bookmarks and organizes them by user as well as by the tags or keywords which have been assigned it. You can group your own bookmarks by the tags, and you can also view what other websites have been bookmarked by the same tag name. It is a great way to organize your own resources and connect to find more research on a particular topic.
What gets particularly interesting is the ability to follow certain people and what they bookmark. This is termed "your network." Not only can you view your network, but you can click on a link and see what has been tagged by the people in their network. When you realize how these networks connect, it is pretty amazing to see the depth. For example, Will Richardson is in my network and here is a graphic representation of his network. Note: He is represented by the large node in the middle and the spokes are the people he follows:
Now, let's take a look at one of Will's nodes and view their network. Here I've chosen Will's friend and fellow blogger/principal/educator Chris Lehmann:
You can continue to click on the nodes and see an ever-expanding network of people...and their networks...and everyone's tags. If you are following people that are interested in what you're interested in, or if you just use del.icio.us tagging to explore a topic regardless of who tagged it, you can elevate your research and learning to an exponential level. Imagine the potential for students and classrooms as they work together to build a body of knowledge sources but with more time to critically think and assess as opposed to hunt and peck?
Second, educator and blogger Vicki Davis in rural Camilla, Georgia has expanded the world for her students using wikis, video,podcasts, Ning, Skype,blogs...and more! Her first project, The Flat Classroom Project, was based on Thomas Friedman's The World is Flat. Her students and a classroom in Bangladesh explored the flatteners identified in Friedman's book using the tools and harnessing the network for information, experts, peer reviewers, and distribution of their final product. Their project can be found here (the actual project home-a wiki); and here (Teacher Tube video presentation); and here (Willy Kjellstrom of Trinity School's podcast with Vicki posted on his blog); and here (their project noted on pages 501-503 of the new third edition of Friedman's book).
Davis's interview is really worth the 30 minute listen. She is absolutely effusive about what can happen in a classroom which is "connected." One thing that has stayed with me since listening to her: Simply put, she says that you can study the trends in a classroom, but it is another thing altogether when your students can experience the trends.
When I stop and try to wrap my mind around the network and all its potentialities, I realize that the network is the new platform and no one has a monopoly on it (not yet). Educating our students, and ourselves, on how to navigate this network and become responsible, critical-thinking digital citizens is fundamental to our ability to participate, let alone lead, in the world ahead. I think MT and Davis have it spot-on: We've got to experience it.