One of the characteristics of Web2.0 has been the possibility for individuals to participate actively in the dissemination of knowledge and in the process, become part of the collective knowledge which so often is shared in social networks.
My ventures into social networking probably are similar to many others: in order to keep professionally up-to-date, I was part of mailing lists, subscribed to associations which interested me, and book-marked sites to re-visit. Today my practices have changed and my social/professional digital networking is an integral part of my daily routines.
When becoming a more active participant on Twitter, for instance, I knew that I wanted to use Twitter as a learning tool and therefore began following educators who I had learnt from previously, for example, through their blogs or other publications. Slowly my network grew, I have met other educators and participants from different fields which I am interested in, and today I am grateful for all the selected up-dates and information that is shared by my PLN. If initially I step-toed with a strategy and wish to learn, today I realize that being a participant in a social network such as Twitter (for example) is much richer than only the exchange of information.
These digital networks have different characteristics: on the one hand, information and connections are made without direct economic interests. On the other hand, there is the need to maintain a professional reputation and with that, there is certainly a certain dimension of egocentricity. Having said that, one should regard that last aspect as part of human nature. For instance, in many F-2-F meetings participants will speak up not because they have anything worthy or of interest to add to the discussion at hand, but to be recognised by their peers as someone whose voice should be heard.
Despite the differences between communities and networks (see Nicky Hockly’s clear explanation here), these spaces of interaction have become active learning environments. Whether the exchange of information/data may be transformed into knowledge for the participant, is another issue, but one that occurs equally in more traditional learning environments. With the rise of social media, one is given more choices as well. One may log on to find out what is going on in one’s world, one becomes an evaluator (i.e. is the information true? is it relevant?) and one has the power to express one’s voice.
My focus up to now has been digital networks. Obviously there are others – family, friends, colleagues and those who one interacts on a daily basis. There are formal and informal networks; often it is over an informal cup of coffee that peers in an organization exchange information (the waterhole phenomenon) and that too has its role in the flow of information in an organization. One of the issues raised for this blog entry, was the role of knowledge, networks and organizations, which I will now turn my focus to.
As an educator who works for institutions, there is no doubt that any materials I create for assessment or teaching purposes will belong to the institution. That has always been my attitude. If I am part of an examination committee, for instance, I consider it professionally unethical to use the same exams in another institution. The same applies to didactic materials, with the emphasis that I regard each class of learners as an individual culture with its own needs and interests, therefore, transferring didactic materials to another educational institution does not make sense to me. However, when it comes to knowing and knowledge, the issue is quite different.
I have always covered my own personal expenses for professional training. As a blogger, as a participant in social networks, and as a curator, those products and activities are mine and do not belong to the institution. Should wish to share (and I always have), that is different. In other words, organizations do not hold possession of one’s professional development nor knowledge. Should I wish to share what I create, publish what I write, have my ideas developed even by other teams if I cannot myself carry them out, then that is my decision and responsibility – not the organization where I work, as long as the ideas are mine and do not belong to the institution.
There are boundaries in networks. I may have my immediate professional network of colleagues and peers as one circle and at the same time, participate as an active member in other networks and online communities without harming or disrespecting any of the other circles I may interact with. In the end, knowledge may flow in streams of networks, but will always belong to the individual and not a particular organization unless he/she has a research contract that specifies otherwise.
On a lighter note, I created some visual representations of my Twitter activity, which I will share here:
Networks, communities and knowledge. A stream of voices, a cacophony of giving, receiving and perhaps even creating.
Participating is part of one’s digital identity.
N is for Nicky – Interview with Nicky Hockly on Communities, Networks, Infusion and more
The Myth of the Online Community – Mark W.Johnson
Who connects with whom? - Shen, C. and P.Monge