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in praise of nets

February 19, 2015

lisa hammershaimb

In The Distant Crowd: Transactional Distance and New Social Media Literacies, Dron and Anderson discuss the many different circles of interaction that compose social media/internet communication and how each of these circles may or may not impact a learner’s experience of Moore’s ideas on transactional distance. For those not in the know (no shame….this was me about 4 months ago) transactional distance refers to the cognitive span between learners and teachers in an educational setting. Though in distance education “cognitive span” often means physical things like time zones and geography, transactional distance can occur even when all participants are present in the same room yet because of any one of a number of elements just aren’t connecting fully. Large amounts of transactional distance tends to be bad because they mean learner isolation and all the negative baggage that isolated learners tend to bring. The three magic keys of reducing transactional distance are: dialogue between learner and teachers, structure/instructional design of the program itself, and learner autonomy.

Dron and Anderson identify four main enclaves that define social interaction. These are: groups, nets, sets, and collectives. Though it’s a bit awkward, you can think of each of these four constructs as concentric circles with groups being the most closed/exclusive (think of the internet version of the “no boys allowed” club you formed in grade 2) and collectives being literally the Amazon.com community where your algorithm just happens to match someone else (think this is where you may totally impulse buy the rhinestone encrusted small dog dress that was recommended to you…I speak hypothetically of course.)

For me (and I think for them but…don’t quote me), the most interesting enclave isn’t what lives on either extreme but rather what’s almost right in the middle…the “net” or more appropriately the “network.” Dron and Anderson say that nets are the social form that, “most characterize tools and environments such as blogs, shared bookmarks, media sharing, and social networking systems is the network.” In addition, “Networks are, at least in principle, unbounded, and we only ever have a partial view of them, connecting with other nodes that are, in network terms, “nearby.” Nets with their very blurry boundaries and macro views have some pretty awesome potential, particularly when you add in the whole adjacent possible proposed by Siemens and Downes.

Because these ideas are so critical to my 804 presentation, for the past few days I’ve been subconsciously tagging every piece of social interaction I have with one of these four labels. Turns out, my own personal taxonomy has been very net heavy. In my day to day busy life, groups seem to require too much cognitive/emotional load on me because I am so vested in them that I have to really think about contributions I make, words I write, etc. thus I don’t contribute regularly…more I contribute on an every few days basis. Collectives I could care less about because they’re just too big and feel too impersonal. Sets….maybe but again they still skew a bit large for my taste.

Nets are like Goldilocks and her porridge…not too big, not too personal…just. right. In nets I don’t need to give large portions of myself rather I can get in and get out and still manage a good level of interaction, challenge, and general stretch so I feel something worthwhile has occurred. It seems the keyword in nets is “fuzzy” and the key traits required are both courage to jump into murky waters and spontaneity to see where the tide will take you–sometimes nowhere, sometimes so far along at such a rapid rate all you can do is keep your head above the water. Either way as long as you’re in the right frame of mind….it’s pretty dazzling.

Is it selfish that I am skewing toward these low commitment, loose tie relationships rather than giving myself to the hardcore groups where I also belong? Perhaps, and yet I think that by virtue of the very construct of nets it’s almost expected that there’s a level of transiency and that’s okay, in fact that’s what makes nets the excellent place that they are.

 

You can find the Dron & Anderson article referenced above here.
Also, long live creative commons and open publication.

 

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