Reflections on Strategies for Cultivating a Sharing Circle
These are reflections on my work online beginning the development of a personal learning/sharing circle, which consists of a group of learners who voluntarily interact and dialogue with another without the conventional framework of a course. For me, the most important difference between developing a network of academic contacts, and developing the more intensely meaningful connections indicative of a sharing circle, is that the nature of the peer interaction is more supportive, more personal, and ultimately broader in scope than those interactions between peers in ordinary semester-length classes.
Over the past few months, I have engaged in autonomous blogging, and have engaged in a number of dialogues and conversations Interactions within Me2U with peers I have worked with in previous classes, peers also taking independent studies, my advisor, subject matter experts external to Me2U, and bloggers from outside academia.
I am reflecting on various strategies for individuals who have gained their status as autonomous bloggers to extend their network further, and I want to begin an exploration of my own motivations as a learner that underlies the act of broadening one’s scope and range of blogging to include a wider and wider circle of peers, of co-contributors. George Siemens identified the idea that blogging is like a pause-point, and then extended the purpose to extended, parallel conversations. This is the crucial distinction between autonomous blogging, and pesonal blogging, where one extends the circle of concern from addressing the needs of the audience of the utilitarian (self) – the one, to addressing the needs of the social self as a participant in wider circles.
I want to emphasize that a sharing circle need not involve active, deliberate interaction; the interaction may or not be reciprocal. That is, I consider the act of adding a bloggers’ RSS to one’s own aggregator as much a part of the process of cultivating spokes within one’s sharing/learning circle, as engaging in extended conversations over time with one individual in a synergistic, reciprocal relationship, participating in parrallel conversations.
TrackBacks, Tagging, Shared Bookmarks, and Subscribing to RSS Blog Feeds
Another way to initiate connection between oneself and another blogger is to post a response as a trackback, which essentially involves linking to others’ blog posts. Through this way, I have been able to identify that on several occasions authors do follow up on the trackbacks. On several occasions, Trackbacks initiated visits from authors to my EduBlogging for Educators blog. However, few of these authors have followed up with replies to posts. Yet I have begun to recognize that activity occurs despite there being no dirct comments to posts.
I found the act of adding tags to my posts as useful, as I found that when I did online searches based on keywords and tags, I was able to pinpoint sites of other bloggers who are writing about similar topics. In addition, once I found useful links, I added them to my delicious bookmarks, and added annotated notes, tags and categories to aid me with finding them later as needed.
Another indirect way to establish indirect connections with others is to subscribe and follow to their RSS feeds and add them to a blog aggregator, or RSS reader, such as BlogLines.
Reading, Commenting, and Building Ideas
One example of a successful strategy of cultivating a spoke of my expanding sharing circle was to read and follow bloggers’ ideas, and comment on them. In one case, my comment to Jennifer Jones’ post about her reflections on the idea of middlespace. This led to a discussion on the issues surrounding anonymous blogging, and the purposes for blogging, in which several bloggers contributed, and which contributed to further refining the use of middle-space as an edublogging metaphor.
Discussion Thread URL: http://www.jentropy.com/archives/351
Thus, reading and commenting thoughtfully on others’ blog posts has also led to interaction with experts, including Barbara Ganley, Tony Bates and Terry Anderson. I had received a number of private emails by authors of blogs, in response to comments I had posted.
For me, the commenting on ideas of individual posters on their own blogs was a great way to introduce myself to these authors, to engage them on their own terms, in their own blogging spaces, and open a dialogue with them. This is especially true for those bloggers whose blogs play a recording or informing role, rather than a social/networking one. It is important to note that sometimes a blogger does not interact using their blog with their audience, instead choosing what is, for them, the more personal technology of e-mail. Thus, a crucial strategy for encouraging interaction with others and faciltating a sharing/learning circle, is to provide numerous options for interaction, not just through one’s own blog, or through the blogs of others.
One example of a successful networking activity that led to a number of interactions and the growth of several spokes to the learning/sharing circle involved the creation and sharing of useful content. I developed a number of contacts with my new posterous.com e-portfolio site, in which I posted a number of podcasts, an image of the transformative learning cycle, and a document outlining edublogging roles. I have been able to track the number of views of these learning objects, and this is, for me, the most promising potential tools, incombination with the Me2U and the netizenship blogs, for developing further contacts and relationships among online peers.
One example of an unsuccessful networking activity that took much of my time was my contributions to a fledgling online learning community for BC literacy practitioners. I think that the timing played a major factor in how many replies I had received to posts. For example, within the BC Literacy Forum, I posted a number of blog posts, and created an edublogging group, yet had no interaction among members. However, there tends to be a flurry of short-term activity following an online event. I had done an elluminate presentation within the BC Literacy Forum, received some posts and interaction, which then declined soon afterwards. The coupling of a blogging thread with an event online has been a successful strategy on two occasions over the past year. After the CIDER presentation given online on September 9th, on the topic of edublogging roles and metaphors, there were a number of visits to the posterous.com portfolio, and several visitors listened to the podcasts.