In his book “Net Smart: How to Thrive Online”, Howard Rheingold suggests that our participatory power on the Internet can manifest in three key ways: filter, connector, and advocate. Furthermore, these three roles are roughly hierarchical, one cannot effectively be an advocate without being and effective filter and connector.
So, where am I? And what is my ideal role?
I don’t think that the three roles can be considered in a vacuum, as they are strongly interrelated in terms of the user skills and motivations.
For example, web 2.0 capabilities only make sense to me if, at the heart of it all, I am advocating a certain point of view. The desire to become a more effective teacher by incorporating digital tools into my instructional practice is certainly not unique to me, but it is still a specialized niche within the field of education. Not everyone is aware of it, or agrees with it, so by definition my support and interest makes me an advocate. This core issue is the filter, no pun intended, through which I am currently exploring the Web.
However, I cannot be a particularly effective advocate without the ability to filter the static and connect to other people. In simplistic terms, I need to find the good stuff, refute the bad stuff, and let other people know. This of course can take many many forms, and I anticipate that it will be a life-long endeavor (if I choose it) to refine and improve my processes.
Right now I am firmly in the “filter” stage. To me this means that I am exploring the different options that are available to gather, curate, and share digital information. As I have gotten better, and more comfortable, with interacting the online community, I am quickly realizing that an essential part of the filtering process is simply picking which tools I want to use. Each goal of filtering (gathering, curating, sharing) can be accomplished in some fashion by a variety of available applications, and most can accommodate all three goals in some capacity. I must balance open-mindedness to a better solution with the need to strengthen and develop my proficiency with a particular tool. At this point, I think that I have settled on a cocktail of Twitter, RSS, Blogger, Scoopit, and Edmodo to meet my current filtering needs. Based on my work the past few weeks, I feel confident in my ability to apply the basic functionality of these tools toward connecting and advocating.
I think that need to continue to use and refine my filters. For example, I think it would be helpful to develop a strategic plan for how I use my tools to gather, curate and share. I have gone through honeymoon phases with each, and now need to figure out how I want to use them as a coherent whole. Part of the plan should include frequency of use, both in terms of minimum AND maximum usage. For example, say that I want to check Twitter everyday, but I don’t want to spend more than 10 minutes TOTAL per day on Twitter. Same with my other tools. The power and seduction with the Internet is the essentially infinite connections (hence the name…). If I don’t have a plan, attention according to Rheingold, then it will be all too easy to get sucked down the rabbit hole.
Once I have a good practice of filtering, I need to use my filtering abilities to find people with whom I want to connect. Of course, I have made some connections already, but they have been haphazard at best. Building trust relationships requires time, whether online or in “real life”. A PLN is not built from a few tweets and random comment on someone’s blog. The really cool thing is that ANY of my filtering tools can be the launch-point to build a network. Some of this will happen organically, but I am pretty sure that I will need some sort of plan to really maximize my participation in this area. For example, pick my favorite 2-3 blogs and comment on them regularly.
Advocacy…I don’t want to worry to much about that at the moment. I think the most important thing that I can do to contribute to that role is to maintain a focus in how I use my tools. For example, create separate accounts to differentiate causal social and professional development activities. As I increase my footprint and my sharing networks, I will automatically become a greater advocate for my interests. Probably the most valuable advocacy function that I can provide is help others link into the network of movers-and-shakers in the field.