One of the themes that came out of last week’s online course discussion about Web 2.0 was a sense that if you had an active online life, you didn’t have such an active offline life. Some students indicated that they didn’t spend much time online as they did other things and had other hobbies. They are the kinds of comments that I am already familiar with from others who seem to feel like there is a stark dividing line between the online and offline worlds and also seem to feel a little sorry sometimes for those of us who are online a lot.
I find that to be an artificial division, probably because I am online a lot and I don’t like the idea of being judged for that choice. I assure folks that I also have quite an active offline life that includes singing in a choir and playing in a recorder ensemble, making crafts, cooking, exercising, and reading lots and lots of analog books. And, in almost all cases, the online world informs those offline hobbies. Just last night, I looked on the web for a recording of a Medieval French song that I will be singing with the group to help me with both my pronunciation and rhythm. I belong to a Ning for recorder players that includes members from all over the world. The pattern for the baby sweater I’m crocheting came from the Web and I’ll be sending it to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation whose real life need was advertised on the Web. The digital books I listen to when I exercise come from a variety of sources online and are often chosen based on the recommendations of other readers. I share and discuss my digital and analog reading with both a face to face book group and several at LibraryThing. And Monday evening last I met with a group of educators in Second Life–at the Jamestown Fort meeting house on VSTE Island–to hear from author Elisa Carbone about her real life writing.
My conclusion: My offline life would simply not be as rich without my online life. They complement each other and are inextricably woven together into one life. Perhaps I should feel sorry for those who haven’t found that connection. Or perhaps we can recognize that we all have different ways of living, both online and off, and just leave it at that.
I spent most of yesterday online with educators, exploring the meaning of community. Several hours were spent in Elluminate as part of Powerful Learning Practice‘s ongoing professional development program. From there, I moved to Second Life for VSTE’s weekly meeting where we explored educational groups. We ended the evening with a snowball fight and, as you can see from the picture below, I dressed for the occasion. (Always wanted to have wings!)
I just felt energized the whole day, having access to all these fellow travelers without having to leave my house! We shared both professional and personally; we learned; we had fun. It was the kind of experience I would wish for learners of all ages.
Besides being reminded of the power of online community, I learned some specific content. I was introduced to Google notebook, a tool I had not explored before. I installed it and was eager to try it out this morning. So, I logged into Twitter, knowing that someone would have a link to a good article to read. Twitter has increasingly become a big part of my virtual learning community in a way that I could not have imagined when I first joined. I was not disappointed this morning as Will Richardson had posted a link to a New Yorker article on teacher quality from Malcolm Gladwell. My primary job right now is working with pre-service teachers and identifying good teachers is always a concern.
I read the article and, as Will suggested, skimmed the football stuff. When I got to the first paragraph that was really about education, I discovered that it had already been highlighted by someone else, using Diigo. I moused over to read the comment and discovered it had been made by Michael Scott, who I had just seen last week in Roanoke and who is a member of the VSTE Ning. I took a break from reading to add Michael as a friend in Diigo. The next highlight and comment came from Clay Burrell, a fellow Twitterer whose blog, Beyond School, is always thought provoking. All I could think of is what a small world it was since, according to the Internet World Stats, there are nearly 1.5 billion people online these days.
I think the lesson here is that online is a real community, as real as the face to face community I enjoyed at last week’s conference in Roanoke. It’s something my non-networked friends just don’t understand. And it isn’t something that happened overnight either. But it is part of my life now, and as I sit at my desk working alone from home on a rainy day, I feel the presence of that community. Thanks to you all!