The Power of Connections in the Digital World: Toward a Literacy of Connectivity?

“Collaboration across Networks.”  That is the second of Tony Wagner’s Seven Survival Skills as described in his 2010 book, Bridging the Global Achievement Gap. As I understand Wagner’s description of that skill, it focuses upon working with people across time zones and distances in order to accomplish a common goal.  The need for such a skill is often justified by pointing out the nature of work in many global businesses, needing to work with people who are dispersed around the world.  Note that this skill is largely described in terms of collaborating with people who you already know or with whom you have some sort of pre-existing connection.

There is another important part to this conversation that focuses upon creating new connections with people that we do not already know, with resources that were formerly unfamiliar to us, and with new and diverse communities and contexts.  This is where connectivism, which I often mention on my blog, has something to teach us about life and learning in the digital age.  While I am not certain that it is a survival skill, learning to connect with new, diverse and dispersed people and ideas is a valuable literacy for this age.  Like any literacy, it gives one access to new conversations, allows one to consider and imagine new possibilities, and it provides one with opportunities that would not otherwise exist.

If I can’t read, there is only so much that I can get out of a book.  I can use it as a paper weight or to swat a fly, but I unless I am literate, I am unable to use the words in it to learn, imagine, or connect with new ideas and possibilities.  The same is true when it comes to cultivating the literacy of connectivity.  This is more than the state of being connected to others and the Internet using a variety of current and emerging technologies.  It also entails coming to understand and leverage various social, psychological, cultural and sociological aspects of connecting with other people, communities and resources.  It involves developing personal and or professional relationships with people on social networks, microblogs, and online communities; and maintaining these connections as one simultaneously navigates online and offline life.  It also involves designing and continually redesigning connections with a wide array of people and things as a way of pursuing our personal goals and aspirations. It is a literacy of connectivity that allows one to discover and use increasingly sophisticated answers to the following questions.

  • How do I leverage the digital world to raise funds for a new project or business?
  • How do I connect with people and resources that help me explore and resolve problems and challenges in your work and life?
  • How do I build a professional network that provides me with new ideas for my current work or even to explore new employment possibilities down the road?
  • How do I connect with people and groups that have a common passion or interest and enjoy sharing and exploring with one another?
  • How do I leverage collective knowledge from around the world to tackle a social problem that is important to me?
  • What are the most effective ways to share my ideas and expertise with people who are dispersed around the world, to get their feedback, and to refine my ideas based upon this feedback?
  • How do I meet new people online for personal or professional goals in mind?
  • How do I select and manage connections when there are billions of potential connections available to me?
  • How do I decide when and if to disconnect with some people, communities or resources?
  • How do I leverage the digital world to learn, grow, develop, and help others learn?

These are questions that challenge us to think about what it means to cultivate a literacy of connectivity.  What I am writing here is not new.  This is largely informed by the study digital literacy, the connected learning movement, new literacy studies, the work on connectivism, as well as no small influence from Howard Rheingold’s contributions to the literacy of cooperation.   I’ve been hesitant to use the word literacy in this context, as some argue that we have begun to overuse the term.  Yet, I find myself returning to the contemporary understanding of literacy as a social practice that involves meaning making.  it is more than just a static set of discrete skills.  What I am referring to here is looking at connectivity as a social practice in which one constructs knowledge through the connections that one makes and severs. In that sense, this is a literacy of connectivity.



Posted in blog, cooperation, digital literacy, new literacies

About Bernard Bull

Dr. Bernard Bull is an author, professor of education, Vice Provost of Curriculum and Academic Innovation, podcast host, and blogger. Some of his books include Missional Moonshots: Insights and Inspiration for Educational Innovation, What Really Matters: Ten Critical Issues in Contemporary Education, The Pedagogy of Faith (editor), Adventures in Self-Directed Learning, and Digitized: Spiritual Implications of Technology. He is passionate about futures in education; educational innovation; and social entrepreneurship.