Groups. Do We Need More?

    I’m noticing a proliferation of niche groups emerging in the edu’sphere — groups of young folks, groups of women, etc.  Something about this is rubbing me the wrong way — but I can’t quite put my finger on what it is. 
    I certainly admire the time and effort that people are putting into helping others find their way in the forest that is the Internet.  But is their enough added value in these different subgroups, particularly among bloggers that are already networked,  that makes their existence an asset rather than a collection of subdivisions, new walls keeping people separate?  At what point does joining a group mean closing a door, rather than opening one?  Or does it ever mean that at all?  (I think that it does, sometimes.)  Does the creation of lots of new groups lead to a further formalization of these spaces that are informal learning places?  Are we perpetuating old ways of doing things in new spaces?
    I imagine there’ll be some folks agitated by the questions, and because I’ve "named" some groups.   Please don’t misunderstand me; I don’t mean to demean — I’m generally curious.  I know that Stephen Downes‘ posting on groups and networks (here’s but one of several really interesting pieces on the subject) has been rattling around in my brain, and it’s certainly not as simple as "groups bad."  But I feel, um, weird, for lack of a better word, about lots of new groups forming up.
    Maybe the groups’ value, particularly in a world that equates authority with titles and memberships and other foolish whatnot, is to simply exist in name so that people can say, "Look, this person must know what they’re talking about, because they’re a member of a group!"
      What’s your take?

20 thoughts on “Groups. Do We Need More?

  1. Bud,
    I am with you on this. It makes me wonder about why we need to compartimentalise our discussions and ideas. It also excludes some people from the discussions which is one of the great strengths of the web, allowing people with different insights into discussions. The two groups you mention would be off limits for me, an older male teacher. So does that mean that I should start an OMTG – older male tech group? My take was that we wanted to break down barriers instead of building them. I may not agree with everything I read but it makes me consider new perspectives which is an important part of learning. Without access, learning can be limited. Isn’t that what we are struggling with in the school realm – building credibility without walls – so our students can access ideas outside theirs.
    For what it’s worth –

    Kelly

  2. Hmm.
    Interesting point but you may be missing the overall desire by many people to have a community of interest to belong to, and that, by nature, means it is somewhat exclusionary. Perhaps people want to find a place, even a virtual space, where they can feel sort of like an expert for a few minutes (Hey, my voice matters!).
    I don’t think tech makes things equal or breaks down barriers, as much as I would like to think that is the case from time to time. That is an illusion. The thing that gets reduced is physical distance.
    The reality is, we all want some place to belong and that is why you have these increasingly narrow communities, I think.
    I remember reading a book by Derek Powazek (Design for Community) who noted that one of the best ways to build an online community is to make it “seem” exclusionary to some degree (I think he called it “creating a doorway”) so that people get invested in the space and make it their own. Otherwise, they won’t want to ever return.
    (Thanks for making your blog welcoming, Bud)

    Peace,
    Kevin

  3. I understand your concern: there are already so many things to keep track of online. Also, most of us agree that connection/openness is the goal of the internet. Do groups complicate the poblem and confound these goals? I think they do. However, I think the problem is not with groups, but with the technology that cannot yet handle this proliferation.

    Blogs are a good example. Before RSS became standard and could be capitalized on, the proliferation of so many blogs was a problem. Now, using blogrolls, tags, etc., the proliferation is an advantage and more manageable.

    I think the technology to deal with this is around the corner (I hope)–some form of transferrable ID (like OpenID or something similar) that can allow users to “carry their networks with them” as they join various groups. This will allow for someone to join specialized groups, but not be disconnected from others, and even bring those specialties into larger networks (MySpace, Facebook, etc.)

    At least, I hope something like that will be coming soon, because we need it. And at any rate, I don’t think people are going to stop joining groups. Also, this would prevent “group monopolies” from dictating to us the few groups/networks to which we can belong and how those groups/networks should function.

    So … proliferation = good; technology to help us keep track of this proliferation = necessary.

    A good question worthy of attention, discussion … action. Thanks!

  4. It is not appropriate to assume either group is off limits or that it is divisive. We are planning a formal announcement of our IDEA and that alone. This is a premature discussion and are not intending to put up walls.

    Give us a chance to bear this out and explain ourselves. That’s all we ask.

    Chris

  5. Bud,

    I have the greatest respect for your ideas and comments, but I think you’re wrong here. Networks and groups aren’t mutually exclusive – we need both. Networks, as with Stephen Downes’ excellent visual representation (http://www.flickr.com/photos/stephen_downes/252157734/), are an excellent way – and a very 21st century way – of learning and collaborating. But groups are needed too. We have groups all the time, they’re a fact of life – we compartmentalize people naturally to make sense of the world.

    As Chris has said above, give us a chance to iterate our intentions before please before you write off what we’re doing!

    Doug

  6. As soon as you have an us you also construct a them. Even the construction “edu’sphere” suggests something else beyond it. If a group could help me do something important that I couldn’t do alone, I’d consider joining. Some folks may feel the need for support and certainty in their decision-making. Maybe they’ll find it. Teaching, however, is rife with uncertainty (for me). The alternative to a group is to find one or two people who you respect, and learn from them whatever they have to offer. Each approach has its parallel in the ‘real’ world, if there is such a thing.

  7. Hi I am a member of WOW. I joined because people who I respect and admire are taking the time to inform people who want to know about pedagogy and interesting tools to make teaching better for todays youth. I am a male who just wants to teach better.

    WOW to my knowledge was created by 4 friends who wanted a place to share their experiences in the classroom. I have been an active participant in their post and pre skype shows.

    The new net is a place where your creativity improves when you get a synergistic energy working with friends. Connecting with people from everywhere allows for a better finished project.

    Groups/networks…… if it makes us push the boundaries of what we are willing to do and improve the education of todays youth then so be it.

    If I recall the K12online conference was considered a group by some people. Look at all the good that has come and is still coming out of this Conference.

    Thanks for a great post. I hope that teachers and bloggers everywhere just push the bar higher and show new and great things to do with our students.

  8. This whole concept of groups/networks really fascinates me, but much depends on the definitions being used. Darren Kuropatwa and I exchanged views about this a little while back and I don’t want to rehash that all here. My view of a network in a blogging sense is something that grows organically in an unplanned way – I find a blog, find something that rings true, subscribe, comments on my blog lead me to new nodes for my network and so on. It is like a growing organism with the only barriers being of my own creation. A group is something different (in my view) to a network – something planned, with defined boundaries and purposes and yes, they can be by nature exclusionary, intended or otherwise. The only problem that arises is when some groups set themselves up to be “experts” and to gain access to that expertise might require membership. Declining becoming a member of a group can also cause offence especially when the members of the group have noble or well intentioned goals (i.e. why wouldn’t someone want to be part of our great idea) but constructing and being part of a network is solely at the discretion of the blogger. Not sure that I’ve added much of value here but I tended to nod my head a lot when I read your post.

  9. Hi Bud —
    WOW (no pun intended) thanks for starting my new year off in deep thought. 🙂

    If I might, can I clarify that Women of Web 2.0 is NOT a group — but rather a network of educators and users of Web 2.0 tools that have created a learning space to share ideas, goals, uses of tech, etc.

    Our mission statement clearly states that we are NOT just a group of girls but rather a network of educators and users.

    However, we did see, and do see, that the name can be misleading. In fact, we had quite a discussion of it over at World Bridges today (you might wish to listen to it!)

    I do respect your blog — tremendously, and you have given me something to ponder in the next few days.

    Have a great new year —
    perhaps you would like to join the WOW2 in a skypechat some Tuesday evening?

    Jennifer

  10. Hello Bud and all the discussion members,
    This is a happy problem. For so many years, teachers have been isolated in their profession either by virtue of being the only Art or French teacher in the building, or only 3rd grade teacher on their floor. Now by reaching out to the Internet each teacher can make a connection with someone who shares similar interests, quests, lessons, ideas, visions. I believe we are responsible for bringing along the next wave of educators. My hope is that we can provide as many inclusive options as possible. That is my goal. Thanks for offering me a chance to be part of this conversation.

  11. Bud and Kelly: I think groups are based on life experience. People are drawn to those who carry a similar set of experiences, so they can feel more comfortable, less guarded around them. This is a good thing. We need to be able to let down those emotional blockades that let us relax our minds, emotions, spirits. I believe these groups function in this way.

    In the same breath (I have huge lungs [wink]) this is not the only way to live. We all need to take the ideas we have nurtured in these groups and wrestle with them in the public forum. This keeps us accountable, helps us to stay sharp, and reminds us that we always have opportunities to be learners ourselves.

  12. Some great these and issues surfacing here about:

    * openness
    * accountability to ourselves, defined set of “others” and the larger world
    * our ability to have relationships with X number of people (Dunbar number sorts of issues)
    * identity
    * affiliation
    * boundaries (usefulness/problems with)
    * expertise (usefulness of/abuse of)
    * learning
    * shared practice
    * inclusiveness
    * exclusiveness
    * personal preference of “containers”

    Every time I read (and tag) posts about the group/network dynamic I always have the “blind men and the elephant” image. There is this continuum in my mind between human interaction forms that can be used/abused in so many ways. Yet the distinction seems very important to us. I wonder why it is so important? I know I spend a lot of time thinking/writing about it and yet I’m not clear on why I find it so important.

    I’d be curious to know why it is important to all of you who have commented. Thoughts?

  13. Hi Bud. This is not my first time here. I’ve been watching (reading) from afar since I started blogging two years ago. Now I know why you’re an admirable techie teacher, you’re with the NWP *wink. I found your blog through Troy’s and Kevin’s links. I am Maria Angala, Tech Liaison to the DC Area Writing Project.

    http://teachersol.blogspot.com

  14. This is a very timely post as I have been thinking about this movement of bloggers in general who seem to migrate from group to group. I was unaware of the groups you mention in your post and I’m grateful for the knowledge. As I read your post I simply thought about groups or communities outside of education that I have begun to communicate with. I love being a part of the education community of bloggers. I learn many things, I am able to reflect on my own actions, and learn that many times I’m not alone in my thoughts and feelings. I have become involved in a few groups that aren’t education related to branch out, to bring others into the discussion regarding education. I also hope to teach others a little about history along the way.

    I don’t necessarily think these changes are bad. In the nonblogging world we tend to move from different group to different group as the need arises. I see no difference in the Internet world. Things tend to move in cycles.

  15. When is a molehill a mountain? I personally think there is a need and space for both–the more general and the topic specific groupings. Isn’t a general grouping of educators a “specified” (niche) group unto itself? And aren’t there a goodly number of topic specific issues that many others may not be interested in discussing? In my opinion and experience, the greater value of the WWW and blogs such as this one is to let its form and discussion drift to wherever the intellectual breeze takes us all. Enjoy the journey; I do.

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