On Network Fluency

On the web, not one knows you are a ____________ (fill in the blank).  Connecting with the previous elements of trust, I am continuing my opening exploration of this module's second topic: Network Fluency.  The introductory chat is available as a YouTube video, and the discussion is on the topic of Social Capital and Personal Learning Networks.

This subject of Network Fluency (or Network Literacy as was discussed on Rhizo14†) has come up many times, both in various MOOCs I've been a part of (mostly cMOOCs as it turns out), and in the contexts of instructional design. There is some desire by faculty to include more networked (dare I say "connected") elements in their courses, however the biggest concern is access. Will learners have access to the required technology? Will they want to use this mode of learning? Will they have the skills to use what they need to use? And, when skills come into question, it's been my observation that the skills that pop into mind are the mechanical skills, not the networked literacy skills that are a foundational pre-requisite to being successful in this type of environment.

A couple of weeks ago, in my EDDE 801 seminar George Siemens. While we had him as a captive audience to our questions I thought I would ask a question to see if he knew of any research that had been done on network literacy in action in the classroom, since everything I had seen thus far in my own small sphere dealt mostly with rudimentary hardware and software usage rather than sophisticated usage for learning. It appears that I have not missed much in the research since, according to his knowledge, we are still only working on the on-boarding phase, and not the actual doing phase.  Such a pity.  I have wondered what would happen if you started throwing students into the somewhat deep end of class. Would they rise to the occasion and figure things out (as far as the basic mechanics of the ICT goes), or would they just drown?

In thinking about network literacies, as I was brainstorming about this topic, I jotted down the following as skills:

  • traversing a network - How does one start in a course, like #ccourses, and connect to other people to commence their learning?  They might see content produced by others on the homepage, content that is privileged over the content of the content of the facilitators because it's on the homepage. The authors of this content may be more accessible than the course facilitators by virtue of not being a central node.  However, how does one break the ice and start commenting on other people's blogs in order to start traversing that network? To get from point A to B to C? Your background, the social capital you have accumulated in other areas of the web (and off the web) play an important role in breaking the ice in this initial step.
  • discovering new nodes - Nodes here refers to both human and non-human nodes.  How you discover people, electronic technologies, and analog technologies will differ.  You might discover some great colleagues  and have short or sustained interactions. You might discover books, articles, TED talks, and crowd-sourced YouTube videos.  New nodes may be physical locations, like visiting ancient sites in Greece, Italy or China.  Some nodes are connected, making your life easier (think books connected to Google Books or your library's OPAC), and some nodes are not connected (or as connected), so the way you go about discovering them isn't always as simple as traversing a path that connects them.
  • engaging with new nodes - Once nodes are discovered, then there is the issue of engaging with those nodes.  Here the educational interactions come to mind: student-student, student-content, student-instructor. I would add student-self interaction, that internal dialogue that we undertake to make sense of things when other required nodes are not present. Engaging with other nodes is a real skill that should be cultivated, but often there is little time (or energy) left when we're focusing purely on the mechanical (lower level of Bloom's taxonomy) and we don't focus on this.
  • engaging your CRAP detector - I think I read this in one of Howard Rheingold's books a while back, and librarians I know keep referencing it.  While I think that we should be egalitarian in our networks, it's inevitable that some information peddled by our fellow peers is just bad information.  This may be incidental, for instance how many people have Retweeted, or +1, or re-shared something without vetting it? We trusted the source that we got it from, so we didn't vet it ourselves.  However, we ought to engage the critical part of our mind and pass things through a mental filter to detect possible issues with the information we get. Not everything in an academic journal is great or accurate, but it may have been at one point.
  • socializing opportunities as on-ramps and off-ramps -  How does one design connected courses to provide for easy on-ramps (see traversing the network) and off-ramps to make sure that people don't get overwhelmed and quit?  We, invariably, tend to come from environments where learning is dictated, materials are curated, and if you buy into the xMOOC narrative the "best professors, from the best universities" in their field are "teaching" you - while really means they are talking at you and curating content.  However, this isn't the true face of learning.  Learning is messy, you need to roll you sleeves up and wade through good and bad information. You need to process it and then you need to do something with it.  When learners are conditioned to have curated content (and this content is not voluminous), they tend to get frustrated with the volume that gets thrown at them in a connected course.  We, as designers, need to engineer ways to get people in and out easily, especially for people who don't just dip into things, or who have a tendency to jump out and never come back.
Those are my initial thoughts on the matter.  Ideas? :)

† strongly believe at this point that we should drop the year from rhizo14 and CCK08/CCK11. Helps maintain a continuity when the course is offered again.


Great points all around, and it is intriguing to consider the concept expressed when you say, "I have wondered what would happen if you started throwing students into the somewhat deep end of class"

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