Individual passions and social software

As a researcher in the humanities you often feel alone, tradition maintains that you should write your text, on your own, in your office. The ideas your pour into the research and texts should spring from your own clever conclusions. Not only does this not work very well, it is rarely the truth. To make an analogy to art – the artist of the renaissance was rarely alone in his studio, the art work we study was rarely the result of one hand. Similarly, we might consider research a collaborative effort, also in the humanities, and it relies on personal networks. The practice behind research and learning as a collaborative is something that academic teachers both need to learn the students and that they can be taught by their students.

Professional networks have always been at the foundation of research; however, new technology has made it easier to connect with more people and it happens much quicker. Twitter, Facebook groups, online conferences, blogs and other platforms have become valuable tools to help create and expand your personal learning/research network. Online I can easily find people who are passionate about the same things as me or I can find new things to become passionate about.

When I teach students, I tell them that academic research relies on dialogue and discussion for its existence and that there are different tools to create and maintain this discussion. Usually it is based on writing, sometimes speech, which is made public in different ways. It can be the seminar, the thesis, the article, the review or the blog. As researchers we are trained to have a goal with our learning, to be efficient and evaluate the learning we do. This is still a process when it comes to students. (Brindley and Walti) However, a skill that student and researchers alike needs to practice is how to create and sustain learning communities and networks. 

Usually we don’t talk about personal learning networks with our students, I find that when we do this turns out to be quite useful to all. Because these networks don’t just happen, they are the result of more or less conscious efforts, and they are valuable to us. However, to an outsider they might appear as secret clubs, how do we find them? Can we become better at inviting new people? Can we help the students understand how they work and help them create their own networks? One way to do this might be to include collaborative learning in courses.

In her talk on PLN’s theory and practice Kay Oddone discuss the benefits of personal learning networks and the apparent paradox where the learner moves in a network while guided by individual needs and passions. As learners and researchers we rely on this paradox as well as on a social software, online as well as offline, which enables us to create connections and spaces for learning. 

Brindley, J., Blaschke, L. M. & Walti, C. (2009). Creating effective collaborative learning groups in an online environment. The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 10(3)

Oddone, Kay, PLN’s theory and practice,

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