Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Local Learning Communities, Twitter, and Tobler's Law

Derek Bruff recently posted a summary of this week's discussion of Vanderbilt's local learning group focused on Anthony Robinson's COURSERA geography MOOC ( Derek's summary is posted here:

I wrote a response in Comments that is awaiting moderation, but it's a blog post in itself and I have few spare cycles, and so that comment will do double duty!


I have not participated in the local meetings this past two weeks, but I HAVE participated in the local group, thanks to #vandymaps (and thus, twitter), and into the future, maybe more blogging. Apropos your post Derek and this week's discussion, I've been reflecting on the social experience as well. Why have I spent 8 hours each of the past two Sundays on this class, when I am otherwise SLAMMED? This qualifier ("slammed") shouldn't be underestimated in what follows.

I am attempting the MOOC (#mapmooc), in part, because of an interest in geography and I like maps! But that's insufficient to explain 8 hour Sundays, I think -- in fact, I'm sure. 

In part, the attempt is also motivated by the idea that a Director for a digital learning institute should actually take and finish a MOOC, rather than only auditing MOOCs, though I don't think that explains the 8 hour Sundays either -- I could always complete "the next MOOC" rather than this one.

It strikes me that I mostly owe my stick-to-itiveness in this case to #vandymaps.  Initially, #vandymaps was a local learning community (I did skype in from Washington state for the pre-MOOC-kickoff meeting with all my local colleagues, huddled around a table -- very nice). A few of the #vandymaps people I would have counted as friends at the time of our pre-MOOC meeting (and still do, btw!! :-), but most of you I didn't know well, or not at all. Nonetheless, #vandymaps is still grounded in a local learning community (Todd Hughes's big, warm welcome to the group is as an important a qualifier as "being slammed" though with the opposite sentiment). But for me, this local community is one that (a) I am currently operating in virtually through twitter, and that (b) is being expanded through twitter to include others.

Its no accident that I used the #vandymaps hash tag to label the local group!

For me, I had enough social ties with people in #vandymaps initially that even virtual interactions were affective and therefore effective, so I see the "persistence" characteristic as directly causal in my case, but the locality characteristics (in my case) is causal of that. (This group is not shy about computing metaphors, so think Bayesian networks!!! :-)

Another exciting aspect of this MOOC experience is learning twitter. Apropos this, and the influence of "local" and "community", is my nascent but growing interactions on twitter. Here is a tweet that links some themes in these comments:

"28 Jul: Rocketing towards distinction in #mapmooc :-) The local group, #vandymaps, is such a great help -- a variant on Tobler's law!!!"

This has been re-tweeted and favorited by others -- VERY neat, but I only just learned of this (because I am only just learning twitter!). So, this doesn't explain my two previous 8 hour Sundays either, but these and other acknowledgements on Twitter (by non-local, as well as local persons) might be an influence on my future in this course.

But this connection between Tobler's Law and local learning communities is really interesting. Recall that Tobler's Law says that "Everything is related to everything else, but near things are more related than distant things." The Law doesn't ascribe a causal direction. Even though I am operating virtually with #vandymaps, they are "more relevant" to me than the world (at least so far as my #mapmooc behavior to date is concerned)-- its interesting, and will receive much more thought. It's also bringing me back to tried and true sentiments of "think global and act local" and "soldiers fight for their countries but die for their friends", and thinking through more variants on themes of locality, friendship, collegiality, obligation, reputation, etc. More later, I hope!

I see the importance to locality and Tobler's Law (directly or indirectly causal) to other activities too, most recently the 5 hours I spent on a big multi-institution proposal this weekend -- why? Because it was being headed by Vanderbilt, I'm part of this community (though not a co-PI) and "we" were all in this together, though all working virtually and asynchronously (but not through twitter :-) There are studies on locality and collaboration btw -- will dig those up for a scholarly article.

Thanks, Derek, for the post!

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