Thursday, June 23, 2005

On Connections

For regular readers of this blog:

After the post tomorrow, I will be offline for a while. It is now comparatively quiet on campus here and hence a good time for me to take a break and recharge my batteries. I should be back with the posting on July 5th.

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This blog is metered by (Scroll to the bottom and click the button.) The counter information is useful, but really not that exciting to me. About a week ago, traffic picked up and I wondered why. So I started to track down the referrals that sitemeter provides. I found Scott Leslie’s blog this way and though not 100% certain, think that was the main reason my traffic increased. But it’s not that everyone is going to Scott’s EdTechPost site. Rather it is some other bloggers get info from his site. For example, I was able to find Stephen Downes’ site. He has a briefer post about my blog, which he discovered from Scott. I point this out for two reasons. First, Stephen makes a comment that my blog has links that won’t be found elsewhere. That is sufficiently curious a remark that I want to explore it more in this post. I’ll do that in a bit.

Second, there is some definite narcissism in doing this type of back tracking. I was interested in this not just to find out about who is linking to my site or who is running a feed from it, but also and maybe more importantly I wanted to know what people were saying about it. This is the puppy in me looking to get petted. But it is also the role of any writer to know what his readers are thinking. The thing is, in the few cases I’ve found the commentary is put other there in the ether. It is not particularly meant for the author. It is meant for other potential readers.

I started my blog first and foremost because I had things on my mind that I wanted to say and I like to write. But second, I wanted to make a statement of sorts about news info that is in digest form. Of course I get my share of that. In the main I can’t process it. Others, I know, can keep track of a wider array of different threads and they want to have a pulse on all of them. I want more depth where I do focus my attention and then I just ignore a lot (which occasionally calls for faking it in discussions where I didn’t get the info beforehand.) So I wanted to show that regular, in depth, writing is ok and in fact something that people want, if it strikes a chord with them.

I did have a third motive. I wanted to reach actual instructors, particularly people on my own campus. I wanted them to be reflective about their own teaching and I thought my blog will help. Recently I found John Patrick Murphy’s blog and it is absolutely perfect as an illustration of the type of people I was trying to reach. John is a professor of Musicology at North Texas State. His blog shows thought, situated in his own experience with teaching. It is really interesting to read. I was and still am hoping to find a slew of instructors like John in Urbana-Champaign.

Now let me get to the Downes comment. I really don’t think of technology first and hence don’t go to technology sites very often. I also look hard to find parallels to what I think about educational technology coming from other areas. I would characterize my own reading as eclectic, but there are a lot of things I don’t try to find and I know there is much of interest “out there” that I’m uninformed about. As long as I’m engaged in something that ignorance doesn’t bother me.

As it turned out, the back tracking exercise provided access to information that was unfamiliar to me. I certainly did not realize there was such an extensive network of edu bloggers (and, for example, the Jim Farmer the blogger is someone other than James Farmer from the Sakai Project staff) and that, with only some tiny exceptions, most of the people I deal with professionally from other CIC schools don’t belong to this community.

So I started to ask myself whether these communities overlap or are disjoint. And I started to ask further whether those two groups are yet distinct from my core constituency, instructors on my campus. Then finally I asked myself where my boss (the CIO here) would come down on blogging as such a networking device. I don’t know the answer to any of these questions.

I do know that inside my IT organization some of the higher level folks think there is work and there is fun and they most frequently don’t intersect. I know I don’t believe that. However, I’m still trying to understand whether my networking through blogging can be brought back to my campus in some way with an obvious tangible benefit. And I’m wondering how much of this I would be doing if didn’t have the need of a writer who wants to have his ego stroked.


Scott Leslie said...

Hi Lanny, welcome to the wonderful world we call "the blogosphere." Your description of stumbling over the "extensive network of edu bloggers" will be very reminiscent to others, and the means through which it was discovered (referal logs) is a significant and under-reported means through which this and other such communities form.

Interesting to me, you may actually find that blogs facilitate the connection with this community more easily than with the one you are physically proximate to on your campus. This 'community' is not formally bounded and is one of affinity - in fact there is no *single* community, only an overlapping of feeds, comments and referal links that, seen from any one node in this network, looks like one community or another. Contrast this with the other communities you mention (campus, CIC schools) which have formal boundries built into their definitions.

This is both the power and, for some, the frustration with blogs as a conversational medium. The power is the serendipity of the conversation through which connections form up based on affinity, and regularly you will find exactly the right compliment to what you need when you ask for it. The frustration is for those who practice blogging out in the open but want the conversation to be mainly with a pre-determined group. It's not that this can't happen, but in order for it to happen you typically have to exploit the mechanisms of those predetermined communities (mailing lists, web sites, emails) otherwise they won't even know you're there. The further problem being that, unless you find people already blogging in those communities, or undertake to get them blogging, any "conversation" will seem one-sided.

In terms of the value of these 'external' conversations to one's workplace, that's something everyone has to figure out, and different people and different organizations will have more or less tolerance for them. I know for myself that if someone hires me, they hire my professional practice, which includes blogs and the network that's been built up through them. For some this seems a threat or a distraction, but I feel fortunate that for the most part my current employers understand the power of the network and actually see the benefits to themselves. These include not just my own increased learning, but also the connections with other organizations I have been able to broker and the reduction in 'friction' in forming partnerships with other organizations that blogs can facilitate by giving people additional indicators of 'reputation' in addition to one's insitutional affiliations.

But enough - have a great break, looking forward to more interesting posts upon your return. Cheers, Scott Leslie

Lanny Arvan said...

Scott - thanks for the thoughtful comments. Organiztion by affinity is powerful, certainly. My discussions with faculty here are either over coffee or via email. The blog has not yet served to grease the skids for those conversations. Maybe that will happen in the future. I hope so but I wouldn't bet that way.

I am still intrigued by the thought that some parts of these one on one conversations with instructors might happen more in the open and hence engage others. I'll let that simmer for a while, but I've not abandoned it yet.