Tuesday, November 30, 2010

It's About the Connection

I love serendipity and happy coincidences.  They happen to me often.  It seems that when I am working on a particular idea or preparing for a presentation (or class), I find exactly what I need in order to make the next step in the creative process.  The popularity of James Redfield's 1993 book, The Celestine Prophecy might be seen as proof that many people also enjoy this relationship with serendipity.

Since October, I have been thinking about connectedness.  That's a BIG word, I know.  (Actually, I've been thinking about connectedness since my teenage years.)  In education, the 'new' concepts that embrace the idea of connectedness are words like "personal learning networks" and "personal learning communities".  Learning happens best when students are connected - to one another, to meaningful experiences that will leverage their learning, to a real community of learners and especially to sources of information and knowledge.  These networks of information and learning are everywhere - just open your eyes and look and connections in a different way.

As I quickly glanced at my favorite bloggers this morning, I found this helpful site - wylio.com - for quickly locating creative common images, especially tailored for bloggers.  (All images come with an embed code.)  I fooled around a bit and entered some 'random' words (my students LOVE that word even though they misuse it all the time) into the query.  I found this picture:

The Power of Social Networksphoto © 2010 Steve Jurvetson | more info (via: Wylio)

I was intrigued by the background above the speaker's head and because of the TED logo, I decided to navigate away to the site. What a serendipitous find! That turned out to be a picture of Nicholas Christakis speaking about the "Hidden Influence of Social Networks" and exactly what I needed to hear today. Christakis speaks of networks as "super organisms" that cannot be fully understood by understanding the individual. He discovered that three degrees of separation (and not 6) exist between the individual and his/her group. His studies showed that if your friends were obese, your chance of being obese rose to 57%, but if your friend's friend suffered from obesity, your chances declined but were still elevated. The influence of the social network only declined significantly when you achieve 3 degrees of separation from whatever group is being studied. This was equally true for many issues Christakis examined such as happiness. Networks matter. Networks are powerful. Teachers need to leverage networks!

Christakis taught me about the architecture of the network and the location of the individual in her network. To be at the center or off to the side might be "good" or "bad" depending on the event or purpose of the network. As a teacher, I want to be smack dab in the center and I want my students there too! "Plug me in and connect me up" I say and open up the networks of learning.

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