From a “Platform of Participation” to a “Conduit of Cultural Collaboration”


Once in a blue moon a professor asks a question that has you thinking for days.  Such was the case for me last Wednesday evening when Dr. Nugent asked the question, “What is going on with the web?”

Certainly, the web has become more than a place for information consumption in providing a “platform for participation”.  I propose that it has now moved beyond a platform of participation and perhaps, even beyond a “connective community” to become a “conduit of cultural collaboration”.  To further explain this idea it might be helpful to distinguish between “community” and “culture”.  “Community” as it might exist in the world of online learning may be thought of as a group with “a cluster of common associations” (Downs, 2007).  I think of “culture” more as that which defines the character of a community.   An event that comes to mind which serves to illustrate this point is “Occupy Wall Street”.  Consider how this grassroots campaign was proliferated through social media connecting a community of disenchanted citizens across the globe.  However, the movement has become more than a connected community.  As leadership has emerged and demands and goals have become more clearly defined, the movement has become more of a cultural collaboration.  Don’t get me wrong – I’m not supporting the ideals of “Occupy Wall Street”, nor am I discrediting their ideals.  I’m simply saying the movement illustrates how the web has become a conduit for cultural collaboration – a voice that says, “We want change and are willing to do something about bringing it about.”  It is the spirit of the culture that strikes me, as much as the idea of the collective community itself.

I find another example of the outgrowth of cultural collaboration in what is available through organizations such as Coursera.  How did all of this come about?  I can only venture to guess.  Perhaps, the current cost of higher education has become no longer an acceptable norm for those who are able to offer alternatives.  Perhaps, the inequitable distribution of higher education for large portions of our population is becoming less and less a reality we can simply accept.   Perhaps, certain educators and other professionals have decided to use the web as a conduit to bring cultural collaboration  in order to raise a new standard in the offering of higher education.  Finally, perhaps some of the most elite institutions of higher education recognize that if they do not get on board with these alternatives, they will be left behind.  Maybe, just maybe, the idea of competing is no longer as appealing as using the web as a conduit to create a culture of collaborative change that will contribute to a greater good.  Maybe that’s just too good to be true.  Then again, maybe not.

So what does any of this have to do with me as an adult learner?  As I see it, quite a lot.  As I contemplate what is available to me on the internet, how I can use information and digital media to create communication; how I can be inspired and challenged by other adult learners, a few questions come to mind.  How will I contribute to building a culture of collaboration and what will be the result of that collaboration?  What will I do with the abundance of educational information available to me through websites such as Coursera?  I am struck by how great a responsibility I have in deciding what I will do with the privilege of having so much information available to me.  Information for the sake of information is nearly worthless.  However information that challenges, empowers and triggers creative resolutions to real world problems is another matter altogether.  I cannot speak for others, but all this leaves me with some very serious challenges for myself.  What will I do with this awesome privilege to be a part of this culture of collaboration?  In what ways may I be inspired to change the world for good?  How might I become a better educator, professional, parent, or human being?  Contemplating the notion of developing a personal learning network seems less like an assignment than just the natural next step in continuing this lifelong learning  journey.

I expect this will not be easy.  I expect to work hard.  I expect that I will ask myself at some point, “Are you sure you want to do this?”  I also expect that in the end I will determine that the rewards of this learning  journey will make the questioning, the work and the doubting all worthwhile.

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7 Responses to From a “Platform of Participation” to a “Conduit of Cultural Collaboration”

  1. bwatwood says:

    “…I am struck by how great a responsibility I have in deciding what I will do with the privilege of having so much information available to me…”

    A great observation, Wally! As Rhett noted in our class, adult learners do best in discovery situations…and digital media has opened up these situations for each of us. What is revolutionary is the notion that discovery is no longer an isolated individual task, but rather one enhanced by the networks we create.

    • Thanks so much for the comment, Britt. You said you’d be following our progress and you are true to your word! What an honor to have a professor with such interest in our learning development.

  2. Jeff Nugent says:

    I was also struck by your profound perspective that…”…all this leaves me with some very serious challenges for myself. What will I do with this awesome privilege to be a part of this culture of collaboration? In what ways may I be inspired to change the world for good? How might I become a better educator, professional, parent, or human being?” this is a tall order, Wally…you may have hit on one of the greatest challenges of our time.

  3. Your post gives me a glimmer of hope that perhaps the common man IS getting more of a word through social media. Maybe it does mean that we can come together and really make change in the world in big meaningful ways. We can all connect so much easier. But with this ability does come a huge responsibility. Because a person has so much more ability, truly you are called to make a much larger footprint. I couldn’t quite possibly answer this question in my comment, but it is motivating.

  4. Debbie says:

    Thank you for helping me to understand not only what personal learning networks are about, but to also see that the information/learning we come in contact with is not about hoarding it and getting all we can out of it, but about investing in others and do our part in not only putting forth the initiative to access the information and being ready to receive it, but being the springboard to distribute it and connect with others.

  5. lsniestrath says:

    Becoming a “CoC” (Conduit of Change) may not be as overwhelming or perplexing as you might think! When I consider sharing what I am learning in this graduate program, I consider my audience, their ability to be receptive as well as the venue in which I may share. Sometimes the act of learning to listen for just the right moment is one of the best ways to provide a nugget of information to a friend or colleague.
    On Friday, just two days after our class, I wove the topic of MOOCs into a friendly conversation while volunteering at Monticello. My fellow ambassador relayed how she had been downsized at work, had three passions and felt “too old” to go back to school. (She’s just two years older than I am.) One thing led to another and I told her about Coursera, explained MOOCs to her. She was definitely interested and is ready for me to pass the information along to her.
    I’m looking forward to another day for us to volunteer together so that we can chat about PLN’s and how to weave her passions together!
    This is certainly an exciting time to be an adult educator!

  6. MelKoch says:

    Wally, thanks for such a thought-provoking blog! I loved what you said about collaboration, because so far that is the most important lesson I’ve gained from the adult learning program. I collaborate so much in my personal and work life I don’t know why I was so afraid of it in school!

    I think the personal learning networks we have formed just in class will last us a lifetime. I really look forward from learning more from you!

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