Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Inaugural Blogpost for EDCI 569

Lots of great stuff was shared at our first EDCI 569 class of the semester last week.  It’s been hard for me to choose any one thing to focus on as a reflection of the class—so many things struck me, in one way or another, and my brain really felt like it was humming by the end of class.  I was intrigued by the idea that MOOCS are not known to attract learners with a lower level of education—all that free and open learning and the people getting hooked by it are largely the learned. That’s ironic to me, reminiscent of the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer.  Digital identities —we should consider ours and assess them regularly, and critically! I don’t think there was a person in class who didn’t immediately consider their social media profiles and assess them against what would be considered appropriate in the way of sharing, comments and updates, professional, but not too professional, and personal, but not too personal.  I could blog about the wealth of knowledge on youtube. You want to learn to rap? Here you go. You need to figure out what kind of bug this is? Okay! You want to re-grout your bathroom tile without the expense of an expert? Yeeeeaaaah!!  I finally settled on the idea of using the internet to connect and the importance of connection as my blogging focus.

Our eldest son has embarked on his first official push out of the nest.  He’s 21 years old, a typical first born in many ways (reserved, appreciative of peace and quiet, not a fan of risk-taking or immaturity in others, but at the same time not overly independent or worldly), nicely wrapped up with a complex layer of anxiety.  We have worked hard to support him as he has fought over the years to free himself from the grips of his anxiety and, for the most part, he has succeeded. However, his leap out of the nest has found him in an unfamiliar environment with strangers (heaven forbid) and living with the expectation from others to take risks and try new things, daily; Seb, say “hello” to Anxiety, your old familiar friend. If it weren’t for the internet and FaceTime, I think he may have turned around and found his way home before he even hit the 24 hour mark.  During this most recent acute anxiety attack, we were able to talk him off the ledge, so to speak, remind him of his strategies, tell him to look at us as we talked him through square breathing exercises, and reframe his “can’t do it’s” into “can do’s”.  He’s now into his second week and those first 24 hours of panic are, apparently, well behind him. We made it (at least for now), and I honestly don’t know if we could have done so without that face to face virtual contact brought to us by the 21st century.
Day 1 out of the nest, forcing his smile for the camera.
Day 5: All is well!

Even in considering the way this cohort is accessing our master’s program and each other, as a peer group, is somewhat surreal for me to think about, particularly when I  compare this educational experience to my first post-secondary run through, way back in 1982. When I reflect on my introverted 17 year old self in September of 1982, walking into each of my various first year classes, lecture halls full of strangers, I realize I would have been lucky to make just one personal connection with a peer, to find just one reading buddy or study partner. And here we are, a group of 24 or so learners, where everyone knows each other’s name, and we get together to discuss, plan, clarify assignments and share talk of family, excursions, weather, and pop culture, although very few of us have ever met face to face. I feel more connected to my 24 cohort peers than I ever did to more than one or two of my first year university classmates (at best) back in the olden days.
It’s a phenomenal thing to meet someone via video chat, never mind in person,  that you only know by a profile picture. Twitter, for example, has allowed many of us to build a network of peers, colleagues and friends, most of whom we may never meet in any face to face context, virtual or otherwise, but when one does—it’s a moment characterized by enthusiastic hello's and an element of disbelief.  Somehow many of these online connections become relationships that are both valued and nurtured to such a degree that when one does have that opportunity to connect, it’s very exciting! I speak from experience, more than several times over, with my most recent “meet” being an accidental one, where I found myself dancing next to @rjanereese, a member of my master’s cohort, on the dance floor of a mutual friend’s 50th birthday celebration! 

I often wonder about my own school, which is a Distributed Learning (DL) facility, where many of our learners are working through their courses online, at home or elsewhere, using a computer, and corresponding with an often faceless teacher.  Some teachers do provide a personal profile, complete with picture and personal notes about themselves, but the information can quickly become quite stagnant and the photo sometimes stays there for years. Much as the value of sharing personal bits of information as a professional on Twitter can add credibility, the learner-teacher connection is further strengthened, in my opinion, by opportunities to connect via video platforms (Skype, FaceTime, Blackboard Collaborate, Bluejeans or other collaboration platforms).  Our instructor, @courosa, spoke last week about capturing the spirit of open, networked and participatory communities in our learning environments and I do believe that personalizing the connection is one key component of that spirit.

At a time when we speak of the importance of meaningful connections established and/or maintained via the internet, the value of social media tools (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, etc) and the internet in general, cannot be underestimated.  As I observe my son struggling to make new connections in a new environment, and I compare my own educational experiences as a (somewhat) anxious 17 year old first-year university student to the master's cohort-learner I am today , I am struck by the positive impact the internet has had on each of our current situations.  While I'm not naiive enough to see the power of the web as a fix-all, my enthusiasm for its potential is only building. I have to remind myself to look through my critical lens now and again, but until further notice, I'm a fan.

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