This post is the script I wrote up for a presentation I record as part of CSU’s Think Pieces project for 2014. The aim is to create a series of presentation that explore different aspects of the theme “Towards the future CSU graduate”. I’ve embedded the video below but you can also view the slides on Slideshare. The time for these is limited so I know I’ve glossed over a few details throughout – but feel free to comment below if you have any questions or ideas.
I want to start this think piece discussing some of the concepts and beliefs that frame our understanding of networks.
The emergence of commercial enterprises operating online social networks has created a notion that networks are an entity unto themselves. They’ve given life to this idea that networks are things that can be created, manipulated, bought and sold. But that’s not really the truth.
The Network is an Expression
A network isn’t a thing – it’s an expression of individual nodes, how they interact with each other and the relationships they develop.
Maps Rather than Places
They are more like maps than places. They exist as ephemeral expressions of the bonds and ties that we, as individuals choose to express, but they lack a tangible existence. It’s because of this that a network cannot be directly controlled or manipulated – it can only react and respond – in the same way that a map has no effect on the geological patterns or landmarks, it simply displays them. There is no power to control the network as a whole because power is distributed and contained within the nodes themselves.
Networks aren’t things we build – they map the connections we create.
Networks are about relationships and interaction and it’s for this reason that they are vitally important. They provide a way to externally express and conceptualise complex relationships in a way that we can understand and learn. In a network each individual is important, but what makes them powerful is in improving the ability for each individual to connect with others.
Networks are an interesting way of framing concepts. Siemens and Downes have done this with learning through the theory of Connectivism. But Networks provide us with a flexible way to develop understanding which is transferable to other areas – including the role and practice of institutions like CSU.
What we do as an institution is create connections, and connections create meaning.
The creation, formation and sustainability of a network relies on a medium to facilitate the connections between individuals. It also needs to support and propagate the relationships between them.
Medium ≠ Technology
The medium isn’t explicitly about the technology, but the structure and support needed to facilitate the functions of the network. Traditional mediums has been the institutions and organisations that societies established – like universities and community groups.
The Medium Is
A medium provides a way for individuals to
- create & share
- participate in dialogue
- facilitate experiences
It is through these functions that interaction occurs and relationships are established.
Networks are not new
Networks are not new, but the reason they have grown in prominence is that digital technology enhances the essential functions of a medium.
- Create/Share = abundance
- Dialogue with others = complexification
- Facilitate experiences = enlargement/expansion
Technology has increased the abundance, complexity and expansion of networks. It has created the opportunity for new mediums to develop while at the same time challenging those of the past.
Beyond the Physical
Digital technology enables networks to exist without geographical and physical constraints. It enables better networks – ones that are bigger, broader and more diverse but more significantly – faster – reacting and responding in real time and without delay. They use consumer grade technology so we’re not reliant on access to the most sophisticated infrastructure or systems. The mediation of networks through digital tools has allowed the simplification of complex interactions and bridge some of the most significant challenges of our physical world.
The technology of today has allowed networks to evolve quickly. They are now free from many of the logistical challenges of the past where they were required them to build the infrastructure and bear those costs.
The Personal Network
These limitations which restricted the growth and spread of networks are gone, and it has allowed the networks of today to become tailored and personalised to suit the individual rather than having to be scaled to cover costs. Despite their complexity, they can be created, developed and managed by the individual, with little to no external intervention. We now have an environment where we can create networks to suit our own goals and aims. We can base them on our personal and professional interests, research topics, issues we wish to discuss or to improve our engagement with our broader communities.
Connecting the Campus
For those of us living and working in regional Australia, networks enable the world to come to us, and us to it. For those working in specialised roles and areas of research this is vital. It provides a way to overcome one of the big advantages that metropolitan universities have had –
As larger populations that can maintain better networks of specialists. Today’s networks are no longer constrained by location so the effect of geography is diminished significantly.
The Digital Divide
The technology to achieve these aims is available today and it provides everyone with the opportunity to connect – If we allow ourselves and if we use the medium. The problem for many staff and students is that the medium is no longer the traditions and institutions we know – it’s digital. Digital is still an unknown, a medium where we don’t feel entirely comfortable, and it’s why digital literacies are vital, not just for our graduates but for our staff too. Digitally enhanced and enabled networks are increasingly the natural state of affairs, not because they are new but because they are faster, bigger, more diverse and more personal.
The Digital Self
What is important to remember is that networks are maps, not places. You can’t go to a network, you have to engage with others and become part of it. You have to establish yourself as a node, and this means getting online and using the tools that enable you to connect. It’s in this way that we create networks that are strong and robust but also fluid and changing. What matters is not the medium but the nodes themselves and how well they can connect to each other.
It’s not about systems or tools like Twitter or Facebook or LinkedIn – it is about finding a Self that can be expressed in a digital space. In this way digital literacy is not about learning a specific skill but becoming fluent in our ability to interact in a new medium – finding ourselves and how we can articulate and express that self.
The Self Aware Node
What is needed is to go beyond a mere avatar that represents the real you. It’s more like a persona – you’re not role-playing or assuming an identity,
In Digital form
You are that identity – this is you in a digital form. If you want to build better networks, you need to have better nodes. Nodes that are self aware and able to connect and relate in a digital space. The challenge we face is how we develop those literacies and that awareness.
… and me?
The title of this presentation was the network and me – so what about me?
I work in a niche area and have a niche set of skills. Living and working in Wagga has often felt like being a fish, living in a bowl while dreaming of the ocean. But over the last few years I’ve made a concerted effort to go out and establish and develop my digital self.
Blog + Twitter + Yammer
I created a blog, got on Twitter and started to use Yammer to develop multiple networks to engage professionally. They provided me with a platform for expressing and sharing my thoughts, communicating with those working in similar fields around the world and it’s acted as an incubator for ideas. What has come out of this process have been real connections, conversations and opportunities.
Instead of feeling trapped in a bubble, I now feel like I am part of something bigger. It’s not virtual or fake – even through it’s mediated through digital technology. It’s engaging with real people in real things. It goes beyond simply broadcasting – it’s about creating opportunities to interact and create more connections.
- I have a readership located right around the world.
- A network of professionals that spans the oceans & disciplines feeding me information
- My work is escaping the bubble and has now started to be re-blogged, quoted and referenced.
- What’s really satisfying is seeing what I’ve created and shared stimulating others to create and share.
Today I don’t feel like an isolated node, but part of a intricate, rich and rewarding network.
The Network and Me
And that’s the story of the Network and Me.
These think pieces are a challenge to get everything into such a short timeframe. If you’d like to know more here’s some reading and further ideas on the topic: