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.