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Making Connections ... Online

Google+ photo by DeAnn DeVille

In a previous post 'Connections Start with People' I explored my first step on the journey to becoming a more connected educator, which involved physically connecting with other teachers outside of my usual circles - stepping away from the familiar and embracing the uncanny. The second marker to becoming more a more connected was making these connections online, in particular, through Twitter.

I'm not sure what actually led me to joining Twitter. Maybe my work at ATC21C? A desire to learn something new? A different audience? Frustrations with other social media platforms, such as Facebook? All those years of attending the ICTEV conferences and feeling that I was missing out on the real conversation. Whatever it was, sometime in September of 2011 I signed up.

Initially my focus with Twitter was in understanding it as a medium of communication compared with a blog or a wiki. At the time I had started teaching Multimedia and this included exploring different facets of digital literacies. I was therefore intrigued about such mediums as tweets and blogs and what they meant for traditional notions of literacy. Ironically, I had little interest in the beginning with actually 'connecting' with anyone. In hindsight this almost seems farcical, but like so many others, I lurked.

In addition to this, I have always been interested in finding new means for responding. This led me to the idea of restricting responses to 140 characters. I had always used different activities as a part of my teaching that involved students making decisions on key words or ideas and then justifying these choices. I therefore thought tweets could be an extension of this, an interesting and creative way of responding to texts. Something epitomized by the book Twitterature.

One of the differences that I found early on between platforms like Facebook and Google+, where you can build walls around content, was that Twitter as a platform is designed to be open. Although you can lock down your profile and tweets on Twitter, it seems to defeat the purpose. +Steve Wheeler sums this up best in a video about blogs, suggesting that, "having a private blog is like going to a party with a paper bag over your head." Really, Twitter is an application that revolves around sharing, without other people's content there is nothing.

I initially started out on Twitter not so much hiding behind a wall, but hiding behind an identity. Although I had been using 'mrkrndvs' elsewhere for years (my name without vowels in case you were wondering), my initial moniker was an acronym based around my initials - 'MAD'. Associated with this, my profile picture was a QR Code which simply went to my Twitter handle, while my profile was a quote from Michel Foucault stating: "Do not ask who I am and do not ask me to remain the same: leave it to our bureaucrats and our police to see that our papers are in order. At least spare us their morality when we write." For me, I wanted to be known for my ideas, not who I was or wasn't.

It is interesting to read about how different people start out. Often people cite the desire to connect with supposed celebrities. However, for me it was about following interesting educational thinkers in regards to media and technology, such as the handles associated with such individuals and organisations as Danah Boyd and Wired magazine. A little bit like the Pringles jingle though that 'once you pop you just can't stop'. I found that once you follow one, you start finding others to add. In regards to my presence, I simply posted the odd quote, made the random observation, posed some questions, but didn't really do much.

What is strange in looking back is that even though I had no real intention to get involved, to answer questions, get involved in chats, I still somehow thought that people would participate, that they might retweet something I wrote, respond to a quote I posted or answer a question. During those formative months I simply stumbled around, finding my voice and unintentionally developing my online identity.

A significant shift occurred when I actually got a response to a question that I posed in regards to Google Apps for Education. As I have described elsewhere, I had introduced Google Drive into my school. However, I was interested in the difference between Google Drive and Google Apps with an eye to introducing GAFE into the school. +Tony Richards responded by not only explaining the differences, but also providing me a range of resources.

What is even more significant than my ongoing connection with Tony since then is that I have shared the advice and details that he shared with me with several other people. Often they were in the same situation as me, unknown and putting the call out, waiting and hoping for someone to respond. 

To me, this is what being connected is all about. Joining with others, sharing ideas and gaining a wider perspective on the world (although never a complete perspective). Basically, just being a part of a wider village. However, sometimes it takes one person to help you understand that to really be a part of a village you need to give back.

So how are you sharing? What are you doing to give back to your community and who are the significant individuals that have helped you out along the way? I would love to know.

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