What endures? What remains?

A couple of weeks ago, several colleagues and I arranged a retirement dinner for my former Dean, Dr. Michael Tymchak. Michael was the Dean when I was hired at the Faculty of Education back in 1999, and I’ve worked with him in various roles over more than a decade. Michael is one of the most inspiring people I have ever worked and has done powerful work in our province in the areas of teacher education, northern & aboriginal education, and in the development of inclusive, community schooling.

At his retirement, Michael told a story about a recent visit to his family’s homestead. He recalled how as a child he would play and explore in and throughout the many buildings found on the farm – a complete universe through the eyes of youth. Now, with his return, the buildings are completely gone, the land is bare, and the farm is owned by another family. Yet, on this visit Michael dug through the dirt with his hands where he remembered the old landmarks. He tells of finding a perfume bottle, still intact, with a fragrance that triggered still more memories. He also found something he described as a ‘heel protector’, a device much more common at the time. Little things perhaps, but things once important, and at the time of Michael’s visit, enough evidence to trigger important questions, “What endures? What remains?”

I have been thinking about these questions since Michael shared them. I thought I’d share some of my thoughts with you – this is sure to be more of a ramble than a coherent progression of ideas.

For instance, I saw a post recently on Reddit that was simply titled “Life in Three Pictures“. While I have no idea who these two men are, how they may have lived, or the strength of their relationship, the three photos express so well the commonality of our lived experiences, our changing relationships, and our inevitable fate. But I’ll save those topics for another post.

Today, I discovered a photo (source) that made me think about these key questions a bit differently, more in-line with my work in developing & sustaining network interactions/communities.

Here, I saw the metaphor for so many abandoned online communities. This is MySpace and Friendster. And some day, this will be Facebook & Twitter. Online communities face the same inevitabilities as any other form of community.

This isn’t much of an ‘aha’. I assume that anyone who has studied or participated in online communities would quickly come to the same conclusion. Communities are hard to sustain and develop, and all communities have a finite life-span. So why write about this at all?

First, I think that examining the question “What endures?” is incredibly important for educators – and not simply for its philosophical relevance. Educators are designers. We design (learning) experiences and (hopefully) foster the development of communities for our learners. In these roles, what should we hope endures for our students? What will remain of these experiences? And what do we know will not?

And second, for us – those especially invested in social networks – I hope these questions increase our awareness of the depth and quality of our own connections. While I’ve spent the last decade studying and promoting the importance of ‘weak ties‘ for collaboration/cooperation, I would be the first to admit that such ties can be more practical than meaningful, and by definition, tenuous.

Finally, on the practical level – think about your own use and embeddedness in social networks. Say, if Twitter or Facebook were gone (or dramatically different) tomorrow, would the human connections that matter to you be easily rediscovered/re-formed elsewhere? Are your relationships platform-dependent? Is it time to increase the depth and quality of your social network relationships? And if so, how will you do this?

As expressed near the beginning of the post, these are mostly just rambling thoughts. Help me make sense of this. Your thoughts?

Connections: A Free eBook

One of my favorite people on the planet, Dr. Richard Schwier, has just released his new free eBook titled Connections: Virtual Learning Communities. Read about the book here, or download directly from this link. The book is in .epub format, so if you are unfamiliar with how to handle that format, see this resource.

A little bit about the book:

This ebook pulls together the big ideas from our work for educators who might actually be able to put what we have learned to good use. That’s what this book is about—making sense of online learning communities. In a sense it isn’t original; it is rewritten out of material the VLC Research Lab already created along with a healthy dose of my own speculations. So it is selective rather than comprehensive. It doesn’t attempt to pull together all of the excellent work and writing about online learning.

This is also an experiment with this digital form of a book. The ebook format offers a number of fresh affordances and imposes some really difficult layout restrictions. The book includes a number of links to resources and examples. Every chapter has a video introduction that you can jump to if you want to get the big idea without combing through an entire chapter to dig it out. And by the time I release the next edition, I hope to discover a reasonable way to embed videos into the document, instead of having to link to external files.

Thank you Rick for pushing the boundaries on academic writing and sharing this work for free and in the open. I’ve downloaded it to my iPad, and I can’t wait to read it.

Friendships

So I turn 40 today, and I was so incredibly shocked & humbled to see this:

Twitter / Dean Shareski: @courosa I couldn't think ...

My friend and colleague Dean Shareski orchestrated a crowdsourcing initiative which resulted in this heart-warming video in honour of my birthday. The people in the video, about 75 in total, are my friends, many of whom I’ve been fortunate enough to have met face-to-face or online over the past few years. I am truly blown-away by this – this is seriously the best birthday gift I’ve ever received. Thank you to everyone who participated in this and to all of those who shared warm birthday wishes with me via Twitter, Facebook, email, and face-to-face. I am so very fortunate to have such wonderful friends and loved-ones dear to me. Thank you all!

Special thanks to Dean Shareski. I know how much time an initiative like this takes and it is truly appreciated. This is truly wonderful. This is community.

And, if you haven’t seen it, here’s the vid:

Update #1: I wasn’t sure exactly how Dean facilitated the crowdsourcing of this project, but Rod Lucier’s post explains the process a bit better.

Update #2: Dean put together a great post clearly explaining the process.

Edtech Posse Podcast 5.6 With Howard Rheingold

Dean, Rob, Rick, and I had the privilege of speaking with Howard Rheingold for our latest podcast. In this podcast we discussed “twitter, community, and the challenges of creating inquiry-based learning”. It was a great conversation where I think we all learned and reflected quite a bit, and I hope you enjoy.

Howard Rheingold

Animal Abusers Caught

About 17 hours ago, I came across a video on Youtube (referred via Reddit) of a teen in a face mask being videoed as he abused a cat. I immediately sent this tweet:

Twitter / Alec Couros: So how exactly does someon ...
Uploaded with plasq‘s Skitch!

A few of us discussed it on Twitter, reported it to Youtube, and within about 15 minutes, the video was taken down. We wondered at the time if the people involved would be caught. I am happy to report that this is the case, and this news report outlines what happened.

It is great to see that members of the Youtube community were able to act quickly and identify the perpetrators.